I Don’t Know What You Need To Know Because I Know So Much

This summer I have been seeing a lot of California Symphony Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer popping up in places like videos of conference talks she has been giving. It has been over a year and a half since I wrote about her Orchestra X project so I figured it was time to revisit and reacquaint people with the work she has been doing.

Recently she had a blog post following up on the conversations her organization has been having with the communities they serve. She mentions a theme I keep seeing in formal survey results and collected anecdotes — audiences aren’t clamoring for a change in programming as much as they are intimidated and confused by the decision and experience of attending a cultural event.

The bigger issue, she says, is that those of us on the inside forget what it was like being entirely unfamiliar with information or an experience. Even when we are faced with a new-ish experience, our past experiences allow us to make logical leaps that total novices can’t.

What we learned was that a “basic” level of understanding about the symphony or classical music does not exist among newcomers. Some people didn’t even know the names of the instruments in the orchestra, which to me, the person who had played an instrument all growing up and who wanted to manage a symphony since age 16, was pretty much unfathomable (remember hindsight bias?). The good news, we discovered, was that this group of smart people desperately wanted to learn about everything related to classical music though. And through the discussion we learned that the way we layout and present information on our website made it very difficult for them to do that.

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Virtually every person in the room expressed the sentiment of “awe” when describing the art they saw and heard. No one said, “I need a shorter concert,” or “I need to hear more movie music.” They very much wanted to learn about all facets of the repertoire and were emphatic that the art is incomparable.

Bergauer says that now that California Symphony stopped stressing about programming mix and started focusing on retention versus new audience acquisition. Last season, their new attendee retention rate was over 30%.

Take a closer look at the post. She talks a little more about how rich experiences make us unable to anticipate what new attendees really need to know in order to enjoy themselves.

#19NTC Topics-Oh Yeah Do I Got Ideas For You

Last week Drew McManus did a call out to the non-profit arts community to submit proposals for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2019. (Proposal deadline is August 17)

Last year, I was excited by the topic Drew was presenting – “Everything Tech Providers Wished You Knew About Writing A RFP (plus the stuff they want to keep secret)

So in the spirit of getting more stuff I am interested in learning about proposed, I am gonna give you a list of some of the things I think would make good topics in the hope some of you will submit something.

  • Data Privacy and Security From Perspective of Communities of Color – I have already reached out to one of the people who made a presentation for the Hispanic National Bar Assn in NYC, but anyone with an interest should submit on this topic. Given that non-profits serving communities of color often need to establish a relationship of trust, this seems like an important subject to address.
  • Analyzing The True Cost of Programs – favorite topic of mine. Related idea:
  • Using Evidence/Data to Rebutt the Concept of Overhead Ratio As A Measure Of Effectiveness
  • Shared /Online Procurement Goods/Services
  • Effective RFP Generation – both internal & external processes
  • Using Geofencing To Better Understand Target Communities – can geofencing help you better understand a community based on where they travel around the community?
  • Ethics of Using Geofencing For Marketing  – i.e. I can geofence a local theater and target people based on the idea that they enjoy attending performances or with the intent of stealing the audience.
  • In-Person/Conference Based Professional Development vs. Online/Technology Delivery. Are there some subject areas better suited to one format over the other?
  • Shared services/technology arrangements – in terms of both back office and program delivery
  • Delete the Facebook Account? – Communication strategies when faced with a concerted social media assault
  • Conforming with Google’s new criteria for Adwords Grants – i.e. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/05/07/nonprofits-can-keep-adwords-grants-following-major-changes-restore-lost-accounts/
  • Energy Saving Performance Contracts
  • Use of technology to provide regular cues to keep strategic plan alive and relevant – i.e. using software/apps to periodically to nag/remind you of milestones in time line, provide encouragement, remind you of ideas you had during the planning session
  • Effective Hiring – from job description to orientation/training  this topic is large enough to be multiple sessions can hit on everything from online job boards/job app apps to new state laws requiring salary range and forbidding asking about salary history

There are plenty more ideas where these came from, but I feel like this is a good broad range of subjects. I have already reached out to a few people encouraging to propose based on topics they are well-qualified to address.

If any of this inspires you in any sort of direction, submit a proposal.  If you got questions, let me know. Like Drew, I am on the conference session committee. Honestly, the conference organizers are really good about providing opportunities for people to ask questions at scheduled office hours and open Q&A sessions, and an online proposal prep group in which you can solicit feedback on proposals you are developing. All these resources are listed on the proposal pages.

They Can Give The Arts ESP? Sign Me Up!

You may not have caught it last week when the Knight Prototype Fund announced awards for the development of technology to support the arts.

Of the twelve projects, four are focused on helping people interact and receive information about visual arts.  Along those same lines, one seeks to utilize augmented reality glasses to deliver performance content to deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speaking audiences.

The Holy Grail of technology tools for the arts seems to be live delivery of program notes during a performance. I am not sure if the tools aren’t effective, the technology difficult to use or if there is a resistance to a common standard, but these type of projects seem to always be in the works. Back in 2004 we saw Concert Companion.  Artsjournal has been promoting a live streaming of program notes by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  There was also San Jose Ballet’s live casting of commentary during a performance of Sleeping Beauty last May. (Interested to know how that turned out.) Now Knight Prototype Fund is supporting MIT’s ConcertCue which plans to do much the same thing.

From an arts administration standpoint, my interest was piqued by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ proposed ArtsESP which plans “Developing forecasting software that enables cultural institutions to make data-centered decisions in planning their seasons and events.”

Our ticketing system has “tomorrow” as a default choice for many reports and I have often joked how I wish it could tell me how many tickets we will sell tomorrow. Maybe we will be a step closer now…

Nina Simon is involved with the Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center’s project to develop “…a tool in the form of a smartphone/tablet app for cultural institutions to capture visitor demographic data, increasing knowledge on who is and who is not participating in programs.”

There are also some interesting projects designed to assist communities in providing feedback.

One, appropriately called Feedback Loop has the goal of, “Enabling audiences to share immediate feedback and reflections on art by designing hardware and software to test recording and sharing of audience thoughts.”

Wiki Art Depiction Explorer wants to use “crowdsourcing methods to improve Wikipedia descriptions of artworks in major collections so people can better access and understand art virtually.”

Civic Portal looks to encourage “public input on new forms of historical monuments through a digital tool that allows users to identify locations, topics and create designs for potential public art and monuments in our cities.”

This last one reminded me of the crowdmapping projects I wrote about some communities undertaking. (Actually, that is exactly what it is.)

Any of these sound intriguing, take a look at the Knight Prototype Fund page and keep your eyes open for reports of the projects’ progress. I have already tried to see if I could learn more about ArtsESP, but couldn’t discover anything online at the moment.

Who Will Play You In The Opera?

I frequently write about how people often don’t feel arts and cultural events are for them is because they aren’t seeing themselves and their stories portrayed. So it was with some interest that I read about Opera Philadelphia’s effort to provide a free high definition broadcast of their 2017 opera, We Shall Not Be Moved,  which uses the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound by the city of Philadelphia as a starting point.

Opera Philadelphia has a history of providing free opera broadcasts on Independence Mall. They are particularly interested in presenting this broadcast because so many people were unable to see the live performance. I was surprised to learn the public broadcast will cost as much as $160,000. Right now they are running a crowdfunding campaign for the last $25,000.

What I was most interested in learning was the details of the original production which involved music by Daniel Bernard Roumain, libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the direction and choreography of Bill T. Jones, all luminaries in their respective fields. It is no surprise to me that they would be involved with the project because they each have a history of working with communities to help them tell their stories.

The students from Art Sanctuary had the opportunity to work with these artists as the piece was developed. We Shall Not Be Moved had its world premiere during O17 at the Wilma Theater, then moved on to Harlem’s Apollo Theater and the Opera Forward Festival in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, it was presented by Dutch National Opera; as noted on the crowdfunding page, the reception there “proved that this timely, Philadelphia-based work could also find relevance with the wider international community.”

Readers may be aware via the Adaptistration blog/Drew McManus that Rob Deemer has been leading an effort to create the Composer Diversity Database in order to make it easier to more broadly program concerts and create music for any sort of artistic projects, including films, video games and of course, operas.

The success We Shall Not Be Moved has had is just another small piece of evidence that there is an audience and interest in projects that don’t appear in or confirm closely to characteristics of the traditional canon.  It bears noting that often these projects aren’t developed and promoted in a traditional manner and that may factor largely into the breadth of their appeal.

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