"We must become expert facilitators of social experiences to be successful as arts organizations" says Alan Brown as part of a recent presentation at APAP. I had the opportunity to talk more about this with Alan yesterday.
Why must we become expert facilitators of social experiences? "Because lack of social context is the biggest barrier to attendance." says Alan, a leading research expert. People need "external stimuli to activate demand." They would go to the symphony or opera or theatre if they had a social group with which to participate.
If we look at the huge divorce rates and number of people using tools like eHarmony, it becomes clear that these underlying social trends point to opportunity.
Alan's theory is that if you set up groups through tools like MeetUp, then this would help to create that context. Just on a whim, I did a little search of 'opera' in New York City and found this MeetUp Opera Group, and this New York Philharmonic Group. Interestingly, the opera group was started by a fan, and the Philharmonic group by the orchestra itself.
These are great opportunities to start building new connections and relationships. How can organizations build on these groups and support them more? Alan suggests finding some of these groups and interviewing some of the people in them. Questions might be about their experiences, how well they are supported by their arts groups, and what would make their experience better. I think that's a great idea. Also integrating the various tools and channels could be helpful. For example, linking the MeetUp group to the website, and from the MySpace Page, and the FaceBook Page. It seems to me that having many portals that all point to these same groups could help to increase visibility and participation in the groups.
Anybody doing this?
Since I originally posted this, Vince Ford at the New York Philharmonic, notes that they have presences on FaceBook, Meetup and MySpace, all of which are referenced on their special series page. While it is a little buried in the site, it does make the rounds occasionally to the home page or the What's New Section.
So what are the obstacles to participation by arts groups?
Here's a few from Alan's list...
- Perceptual barrier - Its a challenge to just set up an account. We don't see the value
- Not recognized way of consuming arts - Until major arts groups use these tools won't be considered important or valid
- Not Scalable - There is a concern that management of these groups will not be viable.
In response that last point, Alan reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article on the Cellular Church which describes how Rick Warren built a church with over twenty thousand members by creating small group 'cells' around all kinds of interest areas.
Gladwell says "...In order to attract newcomers, they must have low barriers to entry. They must be unintimidating, friendly, and compatible with the culture they are a part of. In order to retain their membership, however, they need to have an identity distinct from that culture. They need to give their followers a sense of community...
...to create a church out of a network of lots of little church cells—exclusive, tightly knit groups of six or seven who meet in one another's homes during the week to worship and pray..... The focus was on discussion and interaction—not one person teaching and the others listening—and the remarkable thing about these groups was their power."
How do we translate that for our cultural organizations?
What are other ways to get past these obstacles?
How do we do a better job of demonstrating the benefits?
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