Reflections on the Zocalo Public Square Conference: What Can the World Teach California About Arts Engagement?
I first want to thank Zocalo and all the panelists, leaders, and participants at the conference. It is always a pleasure to be in a room with so many like-minded individuals and organizations.
For those who missed the June 25, 2017 gathering in downtown Los Angeles, an excellent summary of the event (including the second half of the day in which I did not participate) can be found here. Chicago Tribune theater critic, Chris Jones, also wrote an article on the day here. My thoughts are below:
Regarding the topic of on-demand streaming and other services disrupting consumption of performing arts offerings, I liken today's challenge to that baseball faced in the middle of the 20th century. Professional baseball essentially decided to embrace changes in consumer behavior by adjusting to new schedules. Night games became the norm and significant investment in lighting and other stadium infrastructure was thus required. Televised games became commonplace.
Essentially, the sport became further integrated into our everyday culture. And, of course, ticket sales grew. I'm not worried about performing arts surviving and might even thrive assuming we adopt this new technology instead of ignoring its potential to offer greater breadth, depth, and diversity to our audiences and potential audiences. As a bit of an aside, we could do a far better job communicating an arts organization's value (similar to that of a sports stadium) to municipalities and other economic stakeholders of the regions in which we operate.
There was much discussion of measuring the impact of art for arts sake. I thought the discussion incomplete without mention of the Intrinsic Impact work that has been done in the field over the last decade. There are indeed ways to measure the non-economic and seemingly less "quantitative" impact of the arts on those experiencing it. That site linked above is a good general resource and of course one can engage them in a deeper and more consultative role.
Ugh. Share-ability. I was disappointed to hear agreement from such intelligent panelists that somehow performing arts behavior is negatively changing because audiences (mostly millennials) are deciding to participate in particular arts events due mostly on their ability to share that experience through social channels.
This is not a problem; this is not a new topic. And this is an opportunity that anyone of any age or technological know-how can leverage. I think it appropriate that the millennial generation was raised in this chatter because the phenomenon has been going on for millennia. The vast majority of art-lovers attend exhibits and performances to share that experience with someone. Frequently that sharing comes in the purchase of two or more tickets, but there is an afterglow effect where one recounts an experience at a museum or theater the following week while at work or for years to come.
Just because social media allows us to now measure the frequency and quality of that "sharing," it doesn't mean us young folk are behaving in some fundamentally different way from our parents, grandparents, colonial Americans, ancient Greeks, or feudal Japanese.