I have not posted here in a few weeks as I was a little busy organizing a small benefit party and the final concerts of the season for The Chicago Ensemble, the classical chamber music group for which I serve as managing director. Although these times are trying, a major “recession” is a good (albeit painful) learning opportunity. We have been grappling with two competing needs: How to reassure our donors and patrons that we will indeed be having a 33rd season in 2009-2010; and 2) how to be creative in our choice of venue and programming. How can we reduce our already reduced budget while still providing a high-quality season that maintains the kind of experience our long-time patrons have come to expect? What can we do to boost our marketing efforts without incurring additional costs? And so forth. I know these are questions that nearly every arts organization is grappling with right now.
I am fortunate to have income from multiple sources, some more reliable than others, and the pay cut I have taken to help keep The Chicago Ensemble solvent is a sacrifice I am willing to make for a part-time gig (especially if it helps our artists make a living). However, not all arts administrators have the luxury of choice. I think the Illinois Arts Council can expect a mountain of applications for the Illinois Arts Jobs Preservation Grants Program, an extension of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
April 14, 2009
As we mourn the decline of newspapers and the shrinking news hole for arts reporting and criticism, Eric Feidner has stepped in to save the day with the launch of LISTEN: Life With Classical Music, a new general-interest bimonthly classical music magazine. I haven’t received my issue yet, but I’m curious to see what he is up to. Feidner, as you may recall, established ArkivMusic not long after 9/11 and dot.com crash. Despite what appeared to be extraordinarly bad timing, that online venture thas become the largest US classical music retailer. The new magazine is an spin-off of ArkivMusic, which describes its as “a lifestyle magazine for classical music.” According to the ArkivMusic news release, the magazine will profile musicians and music travel destinations, along with recommendations of recordings, books and films. The first issue (March/April) includes a spotlight on Seattle’s music scene, 15 questions for Met Opera impresario Peter Gelb, and thoughts on music and life from Isabel Bayrakdarian, Danielle de Niese, Joyce DiDonato, Leon Fleisher, Hélène Grimaud and Alexandre Thiraud, among other features. Sounds interesting. Now if I can just convince him to take a look at Chicago’s chamber music scene…
It’s hard to think about marketing planning — or planning at all — if you’re an arts organization that is simply hoping to make it through this challenging fiscal year. Yet marketing is even more important now than it ever was (and it is ALWAYS important for most arts orgs). So when I was asked to participate in a March 24 workshop panel on marketing planning, sponsored by the Arts & Business Council of Chicago, I said, sure! As a consultant and as managing director of a classical chamber music group (The Chicago Ensemble), I figure I can bring multiple perspectives to the questions of marketing planning. The fact is, the fundamental aspects of arts marketing are the same in any market. It’s the budgets and the consumer dynamics that change, and that’s one of the issues we’ll be discussing. Another issue is that of flexibility and nimbleness. Some arts orgs have changed their spring programming or even cancelled programs to avoid budget shortfalls–creating a major challenge for marketers who had planned around an entirely different program line-up. So what happens next fiscal year? How do we plan for the unexpected?
Workshop is Tuesday, March 24, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm, at National-Louis University, 122 s. Michigan Ave. Visit the Arts & Business Council of Chicago website to register.
February 28, 2009
It’s easy to feel depressed by constant stories about our flailing economy–and the news can be especially bad for arts organizations sometimes. Yet, every now and then, an uplifting news item crosses my virtual desk. A few recent snippets:
Good News Item #1:WFMT. Chicago’s classical radio station raised a record-breaking $513,221 in its 11-day winter membership drive that ended last Monday. Strong work, classical music fans!
Good News Item #2: Nevada Opera. One might not think of Nevada as a hotbed of opera and opera fans, but recent events prove otherwise. About a month ago, Nevada Opera was on the brink of collapse and planned to close if it could not raise $100,000 in the next four weeks. Amazingly, community patrons stepped up and donated about $165,000, including a $50,000 challenge grant that was easily matched. While the org still has some debt, “La Boheme” opens in April.
Good News Item#3: Arts revenues are in better shape than we thought. Patron Technology and Target Resource Group conducted a nationwide December survey of arts orgs and learned that 47% of the 300+ responding orgs had exceeded their 4th quarter holiday budgets and 10% had met budget. Which is pretty good news considering that many orgs expected ticket sales to decline in lockstep with the Dow.
Good News Item #4: Asheville Lyric Opera. Facing a $24,000 budget shortfall, the Asheville Lyric Opera’s board was scheduled to vote at its next meeting on whether to cancel its March 27-28 production of “Rigoletto.” But by the time of the meeting, the company had received almost $22,000 in pledges–and so the show will go on. Fundraising is continuing, as well as very strong drive to sell tickets. Let’s hope they pull it off!
February 12, 2009
I’m not surprised, but nonetheless disappointed, that the proposed — and measly — $50 million for the NEA was not included in what appears to be the final stimulus program. I don’t need to repeat the insights of other commentators here, but anyone who is passionate about the arts cannot help but be deeply distressed that museums, theaters and arts centers were lumped in with casinos, golf courses and the like as being unworthy of funding (as in the heinous Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) amendment that passed 73-24 on Friday).
On the one hand, arts marketers should take note that the arts are considered by many to be entertainment comparable to other forms of entertainment, and that’s a valid point. On the other hand, as the Chicago Tribune‘s Chris Jones pointed out in his Feb. 9 column, why aren’t arts jobs considered to be real jobs that produce real economic value? Everyone I know in the field works long hours for low pay, with no prospect of a giant bonus, yet their work generates tremendous economic benefits for their communities. If the art sector is so incapable of producing economic value, then why do communities use arts centers and artistic activity to promote economic growth? And they do. Countless studies have shown this to be so and that this strategy works.
For the arts sector to have to argue for its value over and over again just makes me angry. I can’t persuade nonbelievers that the arts are inherently valuable. But we have the hard evidence that the arts provide far more than “enrichment,” and that the sector’s benefits can be quantified in economic terms. And, yeah, those are real jobs. Somehow that message hasn’t gotten through to Congress.
January 24, 2009
Neil Steinberg may be one the best things to ever happen to the Lyric Opera, where publicity is concerned. His Jan. 19 column (“A night at the opera”) not only promotes 100 free tickets soon to be available through the Chicago Sun-Times for the Lyric Opera’s Feb. 18 performance of “Pagliacci” and “Cavelleria Rusticana,” but, just as important, addresses misperceptions of consumers who have never attended an opera. This kind of media coverage, whether in print or online, is pure gold for fine arts and very difficult to obtain. I call it “PR beyond the review” — promoting fine arts performances to people who don’t read reviews or read the arts section or follow arts coverage on the Web or pay much attention to fine arts at all.
Yet anyone who has seen an opera knows that it is not nearly as high-falutin’ as the ticket prices might suggest, and many operas require a severe suspension of disbelief. Dying of tuberculosis? No problem — you can still sing an aria (“La Boheme”). Ditto for dying of anything else, including lack of oxygen (“Adia”) or going insane (“Lucia di Lammermoor”) or being freshly stabbed (numerous) or perhaps hit on the head by a statue (“Don Giovanni”). Steinberg’s column covers such concerns as the dress code (casual is fine unless you like to dress up), the foreign languages (purists don’t like surtitles, but everyone else finds them helpful) and the length (it ain’t necessarily so long, with a few exceptions). Tickets prices can be steep, but where else can you get blood, sex, violence, ridiculous plots, incredible stage sets and fantastic music? Now if we could only convince Steinberg and non-arts columnists like him to cover chamber music…
January 4, 2009
Returning from a festive family holiday break, I am trying to maintain a positive outlook for arts organizations this year despite the challenging fundraising environment. One thing that helps is that there are many free or low-cost Web tools available for arts marketers facing shrinking budgets. Here are a few that I have found:
WordPress.com — Free blogs like this one! With lots of handy back-end tools for managing posts.
BrownPaperTickets.com — This low-cost event listing and ticketing service gives you the option of charging consumers or your org for the ticket processing. The fee is less than $2 for a $25 ticket, which is a vast improvement over TicketMaster.
TechSoup.com — Registered 501(c)3s can obtain major discounts on major and minor software applications from leading providers, including Microsoft and Adobe.
NVU.com – NVU is a free HTML editor that is great for people like me, who occasionally build very simple websites, but are not accomplished programmers and have no software budget for things like Dreamweaver. NVU is Mac- and PC-compatible, easy to use and reasonably stable.
Yahoo Small Business Web hosting – Many affordable Web hosting services have cropped up over the last 10 years, but I prefer Yahoo because 1) even if the company is acquired, I will probably still have reliable service; and 2) it costs about $12/month for hosting and email services, and the service includes fantastic back-end administration tools for updating pages. It also includes a Web site-builder tool (but only for PCs). Some of the smaller Web hosting services have been acquired, merged, abandoned, etc., since the dot.com bust of 2001, so knowing that your Web service provider will still be in business next year is a great comfort. FYI, Google offers Web hosting and applications as well, but I found it was more than I needed (albeit priced competitively).
CombinePDFs – This is a free, small and easy-to-use application for combining PDFs into one document, and for removing, adding and reorganizing pages. Created by MonkeyBread Software.
CyberDuck – There are several free FTP programs out there, but I happen to use this one because it is very reliable and easy to use. And it is has a cute rubber ducky icon that is easy to spot when you are looking at a long list of applications.
Adobe PhotoShop Elements — PhotoShop is an amazing program, but not everyone needs the costly professional version. Elements is about $60 and includes everything you need to clean up and crop photos, or even do simple graphic design work for postcards or Web sites. If you are not a professional graphic designer or Web designer, but need to do simple design and photo work, Elements is great. (I found it easy to use, especially with the online help, but you can buy a reference book separately if you want to learn more.)
These are the important tools that come to mind. I’m sure there are other tools available and will be blogging about them if I come across any that are especially useful!
December 15, 2008
I’m not a regular reader of Vanity Fair magazine’s blogs, but Could Perez Hilton win a Pulitzer? definitely caught my attention. Actually, the blog was citing a story from Editor & Publisher about the Pulitzer Prize organization’s decision to accept submissions from online-only news outlets. In his interview with Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher, Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler clarifies the new rules. But the clarification only underscores what the Web is doing to our ideas about journalism. What do we consider to be journalistic intent or a legitimate news source? What about content that is in the form of streaming video or podcasts? What if the online-only news source includes both investigative pieces that meet high journalistic standards and blogs published by community members? What is the difference between an online newsmagazine and an online newsmagazine? And so on. Gissler addressed most of these issues fairly well. Most important, he stressed that the most important criteria for being awarded a Pulitzer for journalism remains the same as always: You have to do original news reporting and you have to do it according to the “highest standards.” Notably, the “Local Reporting of Breaking News” category will give special emphasis to “the speed and accuracy of the initial coverage,” thus acknowledging that hot stories typically “break” on the Web long before they appear in traditional print media or the nightly broadcast news. (Any PR person who has dealt with breaking news in the last 10 years knows exactly how this works and sort of misses the simplicity of having only print media timetables to consider. Once a story breaks on the Web, you can’t really offer a news exclusive to anybody else because your story is already out.) Props to the Pulitzers for upholding standards while acknowledging the explosion of online news sources now available.
December 3, 2008
I finally checked out the Hyde Park Art Center last week — a long overdue visit — to see the “Not Just Another Pretty Face” exhibit, among other pleasures in this still-new-to-me facility. The “Not Just Another Face” exhibit is a collection of portraits commissioned by neighborhood residents working with Chicago-area artists. Now in its third year, the project was conceived to debunk the idea that only elite connoisseurs can commission works of art. These pieces, which include paintings, drawings and multimedia/sculpture, cost from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and each is a the result of about a year’s worth of collaboration. Not surprisingly, the portraits have an intimate feel, especially those that capture the subject in an ordinary moment, such as carrying shrubs for a garden, rather than being formal and posed. On the other hand, one of the posed drawings featured a fellow who looked like such a nice person, we wanted to invite him over for dinner. What works in this project is that it engages non-artists in the art-making process, without the expectation that they will actually produce the art. It also illustrates HPAC’s skill at being a true community art center — the community is on display!
November 17, 2008
At the National Arts Marketing Conference a few years ago, I heard a talk about a city-wide arts pass program in a Midwest city (not Chicago). It was a fascinating concept and probably one that would only work in a city with not quite as many arts orgs as Chicago. But it has come to my attention that several organizations in Chicago are trying out variations of the idea, and I think this is great. One of these is Looks Like Chicago, a project spearheaded by Silk Road Theatre Project in spring 2008 (and, we hope, to be continued in spring 2009). With a season pass, patrons could see shows at Congo Square, Remy Bumppo, Slik Road and Teatro Vista. Why these companies? Because each has a specific cultural viewpoint and, combined, the four represent the diversity available on Chicago stages. Another experiment is the Rogers Park flex-pass program, offering a flexible subscription pass that includes Bohemian Theatre Ensemble, Lifeline Theatre, The Side Project and Theo Ubique. I’m curious to see whether these efforts succeed, however they define success. Being quite affordable, both of these programs make it easy for patrons to experiment and experience theater they might not have tried otherwise. (I should point out that Looks Like Chicago has a larger goal of promoting the cross-fertilization of ideas and cross-cultural dialogue in the aftermath of 9/11 and the war in Iraq.)
I’d love to see this kind of collaboration happening in the classical music scene. With the number of outstanding classical music organizations in Chicago, this doesn’t seem to be an impossible dream. But which one of us — patrons or ensembles — can get the ball rolling?