Happy Thanksgiving – Arts and Community

One of the first principles in new business ventures is to identify the market and customer segments in order to determine the possible success and need of a new idea, a product, a service, any kind of offerings. As artists we often operate the opposite way though – the piece of art is created as the pure expression of the artist eventually followed by strategies to find audiences. In the field of Arts Administration, we often refer to the process of recruiting audiences as making them eat their Broccoli. Since we, the artistic creators and promoters, determined that this is a ‘good’ piece of art, everyone just needs to ‘get’ that and appreciate it. Hence audiences are treated as objects, bodies to fill up empty seats, rather than the recipients and consumers of the offerings. Unfortunately, this attitude often leads to failed organizations and careers. The key to success and sustainability is to create symbiotic relationships with the fans and the community. The offering by the artist needs to connect with the audience’s needs and desires. Somehow over the course of music history, desiring such connections has been determined as ‘selling out’. After many years as a performing artist and keen researcher of such relationships, I would rather call it becoming part of your community. The value of a piece of art depends on the value the community places on it, not the artist’s asking price. A good example is the experiment by the Washington Post with having famed violinist Joshua Bell perform solo in the Washington Subway. Without the supportive community and the best environment the music lost its value, barely anyone stopped or just looked over. Of course, people are in a hurry in the subway, they didn’t come to listen to a world-class concert.

The lesson learned is that coming up with a plan to connect audiences to a piece of art is much more time-consuming than the actual performance. It’s also emotionally draining as the self-perception rises and falls with audience participation. Of course, I’m not suggesting a free market with everyone producing as much as they can and then recruiting listeners, but searching for an opportunity to fill a gap, provide new directions. The rewards are amazing – a supportive community will come back and spread the word about further events. Club owners can continue hosting events if they get enough customers as they need to pay their bills, industry professionals  can create sustainable business, and most of all dedicated audiences shape the level of the product and delivery options. One example from my end is my connection to the audiences through classes, information  about the music and the musicians, and regular newsletters. I did not alter my music to find these audiences, but I observed and captured where the interested parties are and I helped them understand and appreciate the music. Here is a taste from the SHEroes this past week.

On this Thanksgiving, I would like to thank everyone in my community who has supported, hosted, purchased/ streamed, attended and participated in any way in my musical journey. It wouldn’t be possible without you and I’m looking forward to continue finding new options for connections. All of you help shape the music and the meaning – thank you from the bottom of my heart. Happy Thanksgiving!