Do We Exist to Create or Share, and Who Is the End User?

In the arts, there are two key phenomena: the creation and the experiencing of the art. 

Artists are typically focused mainly on the creation of the art, and (usually) less so on the experiencing of the art. Their primary work is to transmute the pure creative potential of their vision into something more concrete, into a more tangible form. And often, as in the visual and performing arts, that form is intended to be shared, to be experienced by others.

Arts organizations take this a step further – they are typically platforms designed or “organized” specifically to share works of art with others. That means that their primary purpose is to share, extend, or produce the art for the discovery and experiencing of it, for others. (Some organizations' missions are also dedicated to creating art, of course, so they do both).

It is interesting, then, that in the naturally enamoring and enchanting process of working with art and artists, a good number of organizations become so focused on what the art is, that they forget that their purpose is to provide an effective platform for experiencing the artwork. This is helpful to keep in mind, whether you are a startup organization or a very well-established one.

Brilliant programmers are very effective in sculpting an ultimate engaging arc of experience for their audiences. They know the art so well that they always have top of mind whether and how they want to uplift, inspire, challenge, confound, tickle, or aggravate their audiences. Some are marvelous at accomplishing all of these over the course of an arts experience. They know their audiences and how to accomplish their own creative vision so incredibly well, that they can be extraordinarily effective.

That is all well and good. But many arts organizations, boards, and community members are no longer satisfied with simply serving the existing audience. This existing audience is the one we know, the one we understand and serve well because they are already there. This audience and we are comfortable with each other. We know that we do not usually need to drastically change our approach, our messaging, and our strategy to know that these folks will likely come back, and when they are here, they will likely appreciate what we are offering.

However, when we determine that we are interested in reaching new people, it is essential to think about, understand, and recalibrate our approach to reach and engage a new set of end users. We must also be aware of what we want to accomplish in the long run, and be prepared to expend the creative energy, resources, and time in order to fully realize these goals.

At the beginning, adopting a new approach and aiming to reach new people can feel very foreign and risky. As such, it is essential that all stakeholders understand at the beginning of the endeavor the short- and long-term value proposition of an organization that commits to reaching new people, and be willing on all levels to support these new strategies and their implications. This typically happens naturally as part of a strategic planning process.

The easiest way for arts organizations to dip their toes into accomplishing this - reaching new audiences - effectively is to start small, design, and test an approach for a single, defined audience. In my next post, I will discuss this concept more in depth and provide some tools you can use in tackling audience design.