In the movie, The Kid, Bruce Willis’ character asks a sushi chef, “If you get called a jerk four times in a day, does it mean you’re a jerk?” The chef responds, “Four times is a pattern. Five times means it’s true.”
Four times yesterday, the issue of developing Next Audiences came up during discussions with clients across the U.S. Does someone detect a pattern?
Here are some of the key issues affecting Arts and Culture industries in most cities:
- Supply and demand;
- Strategic capacity; and
- Understanding what the next gen wants.
Supply & Demand. Forgive me while I straighten my economist beanie, but this is a core issue. In many communities, there are more seats than there are patrons to fill them. Further, the definition of “arts and culture” events has broadened. In research we conducted last year in Indianapolis, we asked 20-40 year olds about their last arts and culture experience. Their responses did not distinguish between buying CD’s, going on gallery hops, or attending traditional performing or visual arts. In other words, nearly anything in the “Let’s Go” section of your weekly newspaper is considered ‘arts and culture’ to the next generation. That means that traditional A&C organizations have more competition for the time and wallets of future patrons.
Strategic Capacity. I’m concerned that the paid staff of most arts organizations do not have the capacity to do scenario planning, i.e. “What happens in 2010 when the average patron age in the U.S. is 56?” nor do their boards have the cajones to insist that the organization run in the most effective and relevant ways. Over the holiday, I learned of a regional theater that is $600k in debt, could not meet payroll for its equity players, and therefore had to default on its agreement and cancel its season. The blase response from some members of the community was, “They’ve been in debt before. They’ll get out of it.” Aaack! As any business owner can tell you, debt is not developed in one season. In arts and culture organizations, there seems to be a systemic disconnect between contemporary realities (the market is changing, patron tastes are changing) and the professional staffs who manage these organizations. I don’t blame the staff; they’re not expected to be more effective by their governing bodies. The implicit lesson in most communities is that boards and communities will allow an arts and culture organization to languish, and when it reaches crisis, someone will swoop in to save them. This save-the-day approach is reprehensible. We should teach our organizations to fish, rather than simply feeding them.
BTW, I draw the line at expecting arts and culture organizations to run like businesses. In a future blog, I’ll discuss Good to Great and the Social Sector by Jim Collins
Understanding what the Next Gen wants. I won’t recount it all for you here, but last year we did a large research project on developing 20-40 year old audiences.
Now maybe none of this is true in your community. After all, I only heard it four times yesterday. Maybe it’s not true.