Looking to the Future, Wherever You Are

This post is part of the “Imagining the Future of Inclusive Arts Marketing” blog salon.

New works are important. That’s not news to anyone reading this blog. New voices and new ideas help our art, and our world, continue to evolve.

In my discipline, theatre and musical theatre, we seem a little too attached to the classics. Sure, we must honor where we came from. There’s no escaping the fact that theatre is built on a foundation of greatness spanning thousands of years. Musical theatre, young though it may be, is also the fruit of an intricately grown vine tended to by innovators and changemakers. Reminding the world of what they created is essential.

But, at the same time, life goes on. We are in a time in which we as artists and people are speaking often of diversity of thought and experience. There is no better way to nurture new ideas, no better way to hear from marginalized voices, than to bring life to work that gives agency to those voices.

Alas, many of us in the arts administration world have experienced ticket sales panic when it comes to new or unusual works. (I have sooooo been there.) How do we get people to take a chance on something they’ve never heard of, when we’re literally scientifically conditioned to resist change?

I’ve built a theatre company focused on lesser-known and, now, new works. In Madison, Wisconsin, of all places. Yes, here in America’s Dairyland, between eating fried cheese curds and watching the Packers (these are not stereotypes … it’s literally what we do), we’re also working hard to show that new works matter. My company in particular has tripled our challenge: Musical theatre (still often thought of as fluffy, flashy entertainment), that people have never heard of … because it’s brand new. That makes for a deliciously difficult challenge for arts marketers. We are tasked not only with a short-term challenge of getting people into the theatre, but a long-term challenge of articulating why this type of work matters.

I have made it my life’s work to find marketing solutions for works people aren’t familiar with. I spoke with a panel of other marketers on this topic at the 2017 National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Memphis, and am so excited to return this year, where I will dig deeper and discuss how to market new works … in small cities. No matter where you live, it’s possible to make it happen. The answer, in short, is community. If you are not connected with your community, new works cannot succeed. We all know we need to talk to our audience, but there’s more to it with new and lesser-known works. How can they be part of what you’re doing? How can you share the concept of creating new work with them? Who are the leaders in your community that can lend their expertise? How can it be an experience in which we give back, enrich, and empower our community?

I will go into detail on all of these topics and more in my session at NAMPC 2019 in Miami. I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned, both at the conference and in future blog posts and growing research! I am so inspired by the thousands of artists working hard to effect change so that everyone has a voice. Marketing is a key component of that. So let’s get to work!

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