I live in DC, a very politically-minded town with a relatively high brow art scene (ballet, symphony, opera). Frequently I'll be at a party, bar, event, etc., and I'll get the question:
"What do you do?"
"I work in the arts," is my typical response. I like to be a little vague at first to see how interested/interesting the other person is. The responses usually follow one of four templates:
- "Oh, I used to play the trumpet."
- "Oh cool, tell me more."
- "...." (blank stare)
- "My senator is really supportive of the arts. I used his seats last week at the ballet."
With these varied responses, the one consistency is a notion of outsiderness (me being the outsider in a sea of hill staffers and consultants). Sometimes this works to my advantage and the "tell me more" people are genuinely interested. Other times it leads in a different direction because people think they have no relation to the arts.
After all, most people don't regularly go to the ballet, symphony or opera. And this is precisely where I challenge everyone to define what "the arts" actually are.
The Hill Staffer says to me, "I don't know much about the arts, but that's cool." I reply, "do you have iTunes?" Of course he does and I ask him who his favorite artist is, and...(see where I'm going here?).
Way too often people think they don't have a connection to the arts beyond 5th grade band or an aunt who is a dance teacher. That's just not true. The arts is mammoth-sized industry that touches every single person in America at least 20 times a day (my very unscientific guess). Here are just a few:
- Radio blaring from the car in the next lane
- The street performers outside the subway
- The color choices for a new housing development (even bland arts are arts)
- The movie score that can bring you to tears long after the movie ends
- The karoke tracks at the dive bar every Monday night
- The iconic Apple ads on the side of a bus that make you feel cooler just looking at them
- The design itself of the iPod in your pocket
- The singing in your shower (even out-of-tune arts are arts)
So there it is - arts advocacy in a nutshell.
But it's so much more than just advocacy. It's how we should be marketing ourselves to ticket buyers, to donors, to non-ticket buyers, to each other. We are all connected, and what is it that historically connects us more than anything? The arts.
- For the person who has ever cried at a movie, chances are there is a dance piece, or a play, or a violin sonata that could also touch their heart
- For any dance professional that trains for years perfecting their Fouettes for the New York City Ballet, there's a Beyoncé dance move than will blow them away
- For anyone that has ever spent an hour on the treadmill with Gaga in their headphones (guilty), there is a tap number that will get them off their feet
- And for anyone that thinks pole dancing is not art, here is a video for you:
The point here is that we are ALL artists (see pole dancer above) or arts enthusiasts (see every frat house in America). Period. No questions. No qualifiers. We are all involved in the arts.
If we, as arts managers and fundraisers, act on this assumption more often, it will make our lives so much easier. We will more easily connect with new donors, we will see new and potentially groundbreaking opportunities in programming, and we will see a much better connection between arts marketers and arts patrons.