Open talk about new business models in the arts is a cultural signal. It’s a watermark that tells us the tides are shifting. Digital culture is eroding some of art’s traditional value proposition. That’s not what worries me. This does: Even if the arts can come to occupy a new role in people’s lives, will they will be able to communicate this role to attract new users—especially younger audiences?
Cultivating younger audiences will be important. They are the future. But using marketing messages and tactics from the past to reach them might mean that your organization—no matter what its business model, will not be around to see them join your ranks.
In 2009, Steppenwolf Theatre Company and my research team joined forces to investigate ways that other major brands were making themselves relevant to young cultural consumers, especially those between the ages of 22 and 30. You can download findings for free.
Business models are evolving in part because of a strong push from young arts leaders to rethink the traditional 501(c)3.
Why rethink the organizational structure?
Because this rising generation has already changed how it consumes culture and interacts with institutions. It’s just that the organizational structure has not yet caught up.
How do we get it right?
Here’s a 7-point checklist for future success of arts and culture:
1. Re-imagined user experiences
2. Collaboration rather than command-and-control
3. More authenticity, less arrogance
4. Less devotion to economic martyrdom and the sanctity of the 501(c)3 status
5. Blurring of the lines between arts and business
6. A pronounced pro-social role for art
7. Platforms that invite more participation
I also wonder about the arts establishment’s ability to absorb innovative talent. Many of us cut our teeth on the rough-and-tumble business of running storefront arts groups. For some, the next logical step was to enter the majors—big box arts and culture.
That was my story.
But the majors can be coffins for the fire-in-the-belly entrepreneurial drive that fuels some arts leaders. The recent flap at RISD over John Maeda’s “open source” presidency shows what happens when the alchemy between elite arts institutions and entrepreneurial impulse goes bad. Eventually, a person conforms or moves on. Major institutions lose out when they fail to integrate spirited young talent, especially when it knows more about how to communicate in the digital culture.
I confess to unbridled optimism about what the future holds. I know that young arts leaders bring a deft hand to marketing based on authentic connections between artists and audiences. I know because I see it at work in my own agency.
What do new business models for arts and culture portend?
The future will favor organizations able to keep up the rigor and still open themselves to different relationships with audiences, sponsors and partners. Arts marketing and collaboration with business will no longer be afterthoughts. Both are about a more networked style of connection into the community and convey relevance in a changed economy.
As for me, I’m keeping my ear to the ground for cultural tremors at the intersection of business, arts, technology and education. If you’ve got a story about a new idea or business model you’d like corporate sponsors to know about, drop us a line at Culture Scout Blog or @patriciamartin. If your idea blows our minds, we will help you seed it.