Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goin' Green

"I think the music reflects the state that the society is in. It doesn't suggest the state. I think the poets and musicians and artists are of the age - not only do they lead the age on, but they also reflect that age."

 -John Lennon

I was reluctant to begin this post with a John Lennon quote, because there is no way to top it. So, I'll just attempt to comment on it, and maybe give it some context in today's world.

If you're reading this, you probably already have a good sense that music and art are reflections and drivers of culture. I know, I know..."Do I really need to be reminded of this?"

Well...yes. Here's why:

We just fought two wars, we are digging ourselves out of a recession, we are publicly fighting over a woman's most personal decision, people who came to this country for a better life (even legally) are scared for that life everyday, we hear and see racial mockeries of our President and Commander in Chief, and there are plenty of people in the country who would throw a punch at me for wearing my favorite pink shirt.

One more thing: thanks to the recession, a lack of cultural prioritization from our government, and general malaise as innovators, we have fewer and fewer cultural institutions and community arts organizations through which to seek reflection, refuge, identity, solidarity, or whatever one is looking for among all the turmoil. This is a really sad State of the Arts.

I don't mean to be completely doom and gloom here. Plenty of orgs are thriving in my home city of Washington, DC and around the country. And the arts will never stop being a fabric of our social conscience.

But the typical headline these days involves an orchestra on the brink of closing, or a dance company losing its donors, NEA cuts, and the like. I've always been a believer that adversity breeds creativity, and tough times make me work really really hard.

There are so many things we can do to grow as arts orgs: add fundraising events, find that special something your audience doesn't have yet, go "lean" and try to do more with less, expand programming to try to reach every audience possible (not totally advisable), narrow programming to focus on a niche, or find an angel donor (yes please!). One tactic I would like to see more of is reaching the audience's heart through programming.

It can seem tough to think about reaching the social conscience of a community when you don't know if you can keep the lights on. This is exactly where adversity can be our friend. Today, there are lots of social issues that occupy our hearts on a daily basis. As arts managers, we have an opportunity, now more than ever, to reach those hearts through art, thereby re-introducing the importance need for art in our lives.

Take a look at the social/political issues impacting your org and/or your audience. Speak (or sing or play or paint) directly to those issues, bring other audiences in around similar social/political issues, and watch as more people want to get involved. It's a lot easier to sell underwriting to someone if the mission speaks to a personal interest. It's a lot easier to sell a ticket if you are rallying around an issue your audience faces every day. And, it's a lot easier to find artists who want to support and perform if you have a compelling mission in your program.

Mr. Lennon's philosophy has been exemplified by great artists time and again. Billie Holiday, Jean Jacques Rousseau (yes, he wrote Operas!), Bob Dylan, Hugh Masekela, Michael Jackson, The Sphinx Organization, Marian Anderson, Claude Debussy, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Astor Piazzolla, and even Kermit the Frog all participated in social movements with their art. I'm not saying we need to go full-blown Woodstock, but a couple flowers in our hair won't hurt anyone.

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