The theatre arts world opened a giant can of worms last week at the #newplay convening hosted by Arena Stage. Rocco Landesman, and Diane Ragsdale led a conversation directly addressing one of the nonprofit arts sector’s unmentionables: the mismatch that currently exists between supply and demand for not-for-profit arts organizations in our country. Rocco went on to assert this mismatch cannot be balanced by increasing demand–supply must also be addressed.
Thanks to the power of Twitter, the conversation moved outside the walls of Arena Stage and is being held in every corner of the theatre (and increasingly arts) world with an Internet connection.
There are a lot of very smart people participating in this conversation from an arts policy perspective. Diane and Rocco both have follow-up blog posts, and the rest of the conversation is tagged #supplydemand on Twitter.
I’m approaching the subject from a different place. I’m not the least bit qualified to advise the NEA or major foundations on how their grant strategy can best serve the field. What I can do is help you build the kinds of relationships you need to move your organization out of the overstocked pond and into a private aquarium.
Focus on what you do best
Your organization cannot fulfill the artistic needs of every member of your community. By trying to do so, you waste your own resources and endanger the entire ecosystem. Instead, narrow your focus until you find the work that best resonates with you artistically and that you are uniquely qualified to do. Then, stop doing everything else. In other words, stop marketing to the general public.
Promote an Arts Culture
I see a major flaw in applying a traditional supply/demand model to an arts community. Conventional wisdom says as the number of artistic opportunities increase, the demand for each individual event decreases. I’m not sure it’s that simple. I don’t have graphs to back me up, but experience tells me consuming art is more like eating potato chips than buying durable goods. Having one doesn’t satisfy your craving, it makes you want more– but before you take the first bite, and after the salty goodness leaves your tongue, it’s relatively easy to ignore the bag in the pantry.
My experience of the arts is the same. When I am in a theatre groove, I go out of my way to see plays as often as I can–I am also more likely to check out a street fair, or visit a museum. Conversely, when I get out of the habit, it’s very difficult for me to work up the energy to get started again. My memory of how much I love live theatre is clouded by how cold it is outside, the expense of the ticket, and how parking is kind of a pain.
Therefore, unless your company opens its door to the public with a completely new offering every weekend, you need to help patrons maintain their habit between shows. That’s where “competition” helps you. Make it easy for your people to discover the work of other companies in your area. Promote their shows in your program and in the lobby, include reviews for work that will appeal to your people in your newsletter and on your Facebook page. If you can form actual partnerships that’s wonderful–but they aren’t required. Even if the companies you promote never return the favor, you and your audience will benefit from your efforts.
What’s your perspective on the role supply and demand play in your organization and the industry as a whole? Share your thoughts in the comments, then jump into the bigger conversation by searching twitter for #supplydemand. Can’t wait to see you there!