Arts Survival Skills - Part 1
In order to survive and thrive, the Arts must not be viewed by consumers as something only experienced at the end of the work day/week when there is extra time and money.
Not Like it Was
Participation in arts events, as a whole, has seen a steady, slow decline from the highs during the 1990s. The NEA's study from 2002-2012 shows a decline of about 8% in attendance at art museums and galleries and non-musical theatre showed a decline of over 12%. The current debate (that's been going on for decades) over admissions fees doesn't appear to be the fix.
I've heard Arts leaders tell me "it's no big thing...people stop going and then the kids are out of the house and people start attending again". Then why is the decline a trend and not a simply "blip" in time? Add this fact to the belief that younger generations of donors are not giving to Arts groups in the same way as their parents, and you can see the mounting pressure.
Arts organizations need to use their innate creativity to find ways of strengthening connection and relevance to every day community life. At the same time as younger donors are clearly looking to support causes, many in the Arts are still caught up in the old justification; the best reason they can offer to support the Arts is that they are "good for you".
So is broccoli, but that fact doesn't make me want to eat it.
While Executive Director at the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, I had the opportunity to work with some fine professionals at the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and Phil Lane at WGVU to conceive, produce, and direct a series of videos focused on the role the Arts can (and should) in play in our communities.
Arts in Community: Kalamazoo Arts Integration Initiative
The concept behind the initiative is something that all Arts organizations must consider as they work to enhance relevance and connection in their communities. The idea that the Arts celebrate IMAGINATION and that leads to CREATIVITY is the connector.
All industries use creativity in some fashion. It may be easy to see that a graphic designer in a small company office is using creativity in a non-Arts setting, but virtually all industries use creativity in the form of problem solving and concept development.
The Arts can stoke those neurons in the brain that are used in creative endeavors and strengthen the pathways so that creative response in all situations is easier and more intuitive. Any young child whose imagination is nurtured, can more easily imagine life can be different.
If the Arts do more than just exist as "something to do" in the minds of our society, maybe, in time, Arts professionals won't have to spend so much time justifying the Arts as good for you...