A Crisis for Artists-Part 3

Read part 1
Read part 2
Read the NEA report that spurred this series
Last week I said a bunch of stuff that a bunch of people have already said about how art is always changing and needs to change, but yet still needs to honor where it came from (please know that I’m talking about what the NEA describes as art which generally includes live/non-commercial performances or exhibits.  And when I say non-commercial, I mean art whose purpose is not to make money first and foremost, but art which is meant to communicate some sort of thought or idea as its main purpose).  And art, I believe, is doing that.  Maybe not in all areas of America, but as a whole I feel like there is more art now than in the past (then again, I haven’t been around forever, so maybe this is just my perception?) and it is pushing the envelope of its form.

So why don’t people care?  What is going to get people into the theater, gallery, the museum, a festival?  I have a few ideas.
Content: yes, we need the classics, but we need art that speaks to where we are now.  We need plays, musicals, dance, and music that discusses current topic in a way that literal prose or the news can’t.  And we need to make both serious and comedic works.  People need to smile at a satire of modern technology just as much as they need to cry over broken relationships (relationships they can relate to).  Also, not all content can just be for the artists’ sake.  I think in some situations, you have to meet the audience where they are… to be frank, you don’t want your audience to feel stupid.  It’s our job as artists to educate our audience so they’re willing to go to a new place with us, but we can’t leave them in the dust.  There’s nothing wrong with accessible art that your audience can relate to.  Wouldn’t we rather our audience leave feeling moved than scratching their head, not knowing how to feel?
Community: There are many dance companies (and I use dance, because it’s the form I’m most familiar with) that have been doing well consistently over many ears.  However, one that stands above the rest in terms of the way that it succeeds and it’s overall accessibility is the Alvin Ailey Dance Company… and they know about community. 
They’ve been reaching out to their community for years with school shows, and outreach programs in schools, bringing dance education to children that wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to even see dance, and open classes for the community.  Chances are, if you’ve seen any dance, you’ve seen their world-renowned work, Revelations, (and if you haven’t, see it!  On video, or the next time they come near you… it’s a must) which is like American modern dance 101.  And it still speaks today.  And they do it all the time, while still creating new work that speaks to modern audiences.  Anyway, the point is, they are a company for the people.  They desire to be in their community, and as a result, their community feels connected to them and so they have a reason to come.  They’re familiar with the company, they feel like the company has already served them, so they genuinely WANT to buy tickets and watch them perform.  And in the process, they create dance-lovers.  Not all arts organizations are at that level where they can do so many programs, but they should find some way to interact with their community.
Consider the internet.  People get attached to complete strangers who they find intriguing by reading their blog or following them or Twitter or facebook.  Just the act of interacting with said person’s information makes them feel closer to that person.  Like they understand.  Like they’re a “real-life” friend (not just a facebook friend)…  People WANT interaction.  And artists should be interacting with their future audiences… in schools, on the internet via tweet blog or facebook, at community events, with churches, with charities.  The more ways you connect with the community, the more ways the community can connect to you.  It’s time-consuming (but not always cash-consuming…). But it’s imperative.
Cash: Many times that American interact with art, particularly any type of live performance, end up spending a lot of money for one show.  I don’t think this is wrong.  Artists are hard working and I believe they’re vital to society (that will be discussed in another post), and their pay should reflect that.  We’re not exactly curing diseases, but many times we’re inspiring people to continue to live.  So elevated ticket prices should account for the fact that you have to actually pay the artists (don’t worry, most aren’t getting six figures… hello, starving artist? It’s a cliché for a reason).  But you have to give people a reason to pay what you’re charging.  And you have to give people opportunities to pay less to see the same.  Open rehearsals so audiences can see what live performers are working on.  Performing or displaying work at benefits where most of the ticket price goes to a charity.  Student discounts.  Senior discounts.  Professional discounts (so one starving artist can see another’s art without, well, starving).  And honestly, the lower you can make prices, the more likely you’ll pull people in, for today, and for the future.
Those are some of my ideas.  Got any to share? 

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