I woke up early in the morning thinking about the conference I just attended. At first I thought I was in the hotel room, which proves my brain is still there at the conference, and the other attendees probably feel the same way. The day after always gives us a chance to bask in the glow of NAMPC one more time before getting back to reality. I will be Storifying my tweets as well, but in this continued warm memory of the conference, I give you my wrap-up essay.
This year’s NAMPC surprised me more than any other conference. The theme Lift Off! served as the launching pad for something that became much deeper in nature. The themes that bubbled to the surface truly echoed our current evolution of humanity in general. Collectively, humans are attempting to be more human, to treat both ourselves and other people with more respect, and to realize and have the awareness of, no matter how different we look on the outside, we are relatively the same. The conference also mirrored the craving for community engagement that we feel and the fear and struggles of being our authentic selves to share our stories.
Allow me to share what I felt the themes of 2015 were. If I missed any or if you have a comment to add, please reply and share.
Allowing ourselves to be human
Sometimes we get bogged down in all the rules and regulations of life, of appearing so gosh darn business like that we forget to be human. Instead, wouldn’t it be better if we all were more naturally ourselves and embrace the fact that we are genuinely human and come from this space to connect with people more authentically?
One of the best examples of this theme emerging was Lisa Mallette’s presentation (City Lights Theater Company, San Jose, CA) during FLIPPING THE AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT PARADIGM: TRANSFORMING YOUR ARTS ORGANIZATION or simply #AudienceEngagement, which is the hashtag you can use to witness tweets from this session. Lisa boldly admitted that this was her first powerpoint presentation. The presentation was not as smooth as some of the other presenters, but she had such a genuine desire to share her story that all of us were routing for her. She was her authentic self and that is what made her presentation one of my favorites. In fact, she specifically pointed out that it would be best to connect with our audiences on this level. If you make a mistake, admit it, we are human, and then try to solve the problem. Because of her sincerity of wanting to share the love of audience development and what it accomplished for her organization, her presentation had me cheering not only for the fact that she was preaching similar results from my own practice of audience development, but also because the presentation had a great deal of heart and passion.
The second big example of allowing ourselves to be human is Donna Walker-Kuhne, Vice President, Community Engagement, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and author of Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to Arts, Culture and Community. This woman not only powerfully communicates this message, but exemplifies this way of being. She connects with other people on a human level, and because of this very real connection, a strong relationship builds. Also, when you continue to add these types of relationships to your plate, a collection of people can make amazing arts happen within the communities. Of course being a Cultural Warrior and not taking no for an answer, or rather, coming from a space of yes, helps as well.
So, be humanly you. Be your authentic self, a human being, when communicating, providing, and creating your arts with and for other people.
Of course Donna’s presentation brings us to the second theme…
I was pleasantly surprised to see this theme running rampant through the conference. It is about time! We have treated this subject as a side topic for far too long, and again, like our struggles for awareness in our society, it is now front and center where it needs to be.
Donna Walker-Kuhne, with her astonishing ability to connect with people on a human level, grows diverse audiences. It is her gift. She is a natural at this (and she has honed this skill over the span of her career), but we can all learn how to become a little more like her. The main point that she drove home (as well as some of the other presenters) is the fact that tokenism is not going to create a diverse audience, and in fact could damage and serve to further separate and alienate people. Being inclusive is the better goal. It sometimes means, in order to build bridges, it may be best to go to them, go where they are, and get their feedback to create something that is truly useful and desirable for them.
I attended Adam Thurman’s COMMUNITY FORUM: ADVOCATING FOR NEW AUDIENCES or #NewAudiences. Adam (from Court Theatre at the University of Chicago) thinks differently in a good way, and I would recommend attending a future session of his to equally blow your mind. One of the main truths that came out of his session – educate and treat people from the core values instead of from the diverse perspective. He gave an example of placing a crossword puzzle in the program where everyone was equally nerdy about solving. It created a sense of community, and further, it didn’t matter what you looked like or what your background was, everyone was getting more involved with the art form through this experience.
You see, we all share a love for the arts (even the potential audiences who simply have not realized it yet). It is part of our human DNA. Why not come from this perspective, of treating everyone like the nerdy arts lover that they are, instead of all the attempts to treat people differently through token programs, staffing, etc.
Did you know that the differences in our backgrounds are only .5% of our DNA? This means we share 99.5%! Let’s shift to this type of perspective, and not only will audiences become more diverse, they will be inclusive!
Failure – get through the fear, risk and experiment – do it – succeed
Right off the bat, bam, Gut Churn! with the opening keynote: JAD ABUMRAD, MACARTHUR FELLOW & HOST OF THE PEABODY AWARD-WINNING RADIOLAB. Jad took us through how a Radiolab gets created. It begins with that dreadful, scary feeling of gut churn, a place where you are lost in the woods without a clue of how to even communicate what you are attempting to do. He pointed out that each type of program has its own napkin doodle of the process on how to get through this gut churn to ultimately succeed in creating a final program. There are fears to get through, fear of failure, fear of risk, fear of experimenting, fear of looking like a complete idiot. This is all ego stuff to get over and get through. When you feel the fear and do it anyway, amazing results can happen. And, as Jad mentions, coming from this adrenaline filled psyche can actually become the fuel for great ideas to be born. “What? Oh. What about? Oh. Wha??? Oh!” until you reach an incredible path to travel. Please do watch his keynote (again) to especially witness the examples of his PTSD inducing (for Jad that is since he had the critics in his ear even before the full idea was flushed out) Wagner segment and the sound version of a rainbow from the inspiration of the mantis shrimp who can see a rainbow the best.
The theme was mentioned also in Beth Kanter’s (master trainer, blogger, author) keynote – pick yourself up, admit the failure, dust yourself off, learn from it, and move on. I think this theme came up in almost every session I attended! New technology? Get over the fear and experiment! Social Media and Web Analytics? Get over the fear, learn, and do it effectively! Data? Get over the fear of collecting, get the data, and use it well!
Which nicely segues into the final theme…
Data – Collect it, analyze it, use it to truly understand your story and your audiences’ stories
The main session that embodied this theme was WORKSHOP! THE ART OF CONTEXTUAL MARKETING: MAXIMIZING RELEVANCY IN THE AGE OF PERSONALIZATION or #ContextMarketing hosted by three fantastic personalities, David Dombrosky, InstantEncore, Amelia Northrup-Simpson, TRGArts and Ronia Holmes, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. They put the BIG in DATA for sure (Big Data started off their presentation). We can create the stories of our audience members through various resources of data and correlate it to our own organization’s stories. The analyzing and cross referencing this data truly provides some eye opening and informed solutions. Instead of an utter failure, you will have an informed failure, which ties us back to the other theme of failure quite nicely. Mainly, through this process you will have more success.
Data collection, it is possible, we can do this! Beth Kanter pointed out that the best focus for data is 30% collecting and 70% analyzing. Getting geeky about data is a smart practice and a good habit to have.
There were other subset themes: get to know your audiences, audience development, engagement, allow yourself to be creative, emerging technology, social media, and insert your theme here. I will say that I was happy that a new theme is starting to make a presence, catering to the small and mid-sized organizations.
Honorable mention goes to the folks of Low Cost, High Impact Marketing: Making a Splash with a Small Budget and a Tiny Team who rattled off tangible yet creative thoughts and ideas regarding how to work with low or no budgets to still succeed in building audiences. The session turned into a share fest. We shared our pains of being so strapped, of being a marketing department of one, and we shared our success from learning how to be scrappy and truly innovative. The panel was completely open to allowing us to share our stories. It was a very energizing presentation in the very early time slot on the dreaded Monday morning after partying with s’mores or karaoke.
All in all, this year was very special. We are heading into a new direction of valuing who are audiences are and how we can partner with them to create amazing experiences. We are learning to get over ourselves, our fears, our society perceptions to become more authentically real in how we relate to one another. We are building a community of the arts and inviting people of our communities or going to them to be a part of arts again. This sense of creating buy-in from all of us is the real fuel for a true Lift Off! for the arts.
Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Chief Audience Builder, ADS