Strengthening Ties With Your Audience: Notes


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These notes accompany the slide presentation titled "Strengthening Ties."

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Strengthening Ties With Your Audience: Notes

  1. 1. Introductions. (Anita): 5-10 mins. Try to get an idea of who is in the audience. (Anita): 5-10 mins. --What kind of work do you do? What is on your “project table” for the coming year? Is anyone in the room able to make a living simply by selling or performing their work? Why did you come tonight? What would you like to leave with? Christa Lawler. (Media portion): 30 mins. Media Q & A: 15 mins. Heidi and Anita. (Strengthening Ties to Your Audience.): 30 mins. Audience Q & A: 15 mins. Wrap-up. --How do you get your work out there? Do you have a website? Is it complete? Do you have a store on a website like Is there stuff in it? Do you do postal mailings for shows? What are some of the other things you do to generate interest in your shows and/or events? Make connections. Who I am. Heidi Rettig. Who is the „audience‟ from your perspective? There may be more than one. How can you tell each audience your story to encourage their investment in your work? I would like to suggest a set of simple strategies to help you strengthen ties to your audience on your terms. Encourage you to reach out more broadly to your creative network, which makes it all worthwhile . 1. Don’t hoard. Strengthening ties to your audiences begins with a good look at where *you* are. What do you want for yourself? Who do you envy? (envy being the key to figuring out what you want if you don‟t know already.) What are the things that keep you from getting there? (make a list – I bet “time” is at the top.
  2. 2. --Do your best work. This is your top priority. Your idea is something precious that deserves to be treated as such. Use the best materials you can afford. Finish it to the highest standard. Seek the eye and advice of trusted members in your creative network when you are stumped, but do not imagine that you need someone‟s approval to make it a valid or worthwhile pursuit. Decide what you can give to the art and be relentless – as prolific a producer as you can possibly be. Artists and musicians who do a great job of this are: Carl Hancock Rux; Robert Ebendorf; Cynthia Treen. These are people who make a serious commitment to the quality of their work and allow it to assume top priority in their lives. They also earn a living making their work. Both Carl and Cynthia are still in their mid-thirties. It is possible. -- Put your best work on a website. If you don‟t have an online presence, you are limiting your visibility in the marketplace. Virtually replaced the portfolio for visual artists, opens up new ways of sharing (video, audio) for performers. The benefit of a website is that it allows you to decide what will be said to your audience about your work – how it will look, sound, or be displayed. Online galleries (vs. commercial galleries) help collapse the distance between the buyer and you - the seller. Building a website was the hardest project I‟ve ever done but it really helps you think about who you are and what kind of work you want to put out there. --A good website starts with good work samples. To limit costs, you can sometimes trade with photographers. Trick to trading services is to be honest and real about what can be accomplished and when. Maybe you can‟t pay full price – WHAT CAN YOU PAY? Learn to take your own photos – there are many resources online that help you figure out the lighting and setup using a digital camera. Record performances or use local resources to pull together a sample. --Choose based on what you can maintain in terms of time and cost. Etsy. Simple website with blog. Website with a blog and store. Blogs are nice and lots of artists are using them. Encourage links which creates community, can share work-in-progress and some even have a shopping cart function. I had my work website built – used a designer who was just getting started and needed projects in her portfolio. For my personal blog I use Typepad - $8 a month at the middle level but includes many helpful features and looks professional. Google‟s Blogger is free but I can‟t figure it out. --Kathy‟s website ( is simple and clean. She has great work samples and each page can be easily updated. --Your CV and Artist Statement can and should be part of your website. I‟m always surprised how many people don‟t have an up to date resume. Nava has a complete CV, viewable on her website (, a list of shows she‟s participated in, galleries of completed work, contact information and a great artist statement. Nava has a website, book proposal in .pdf that she can circulate, good quality images, FB page, e-newsletter that goes out each month, perfect CV, completed artist statement. When I started working with her, I was impressed not just by her
  3. 3. art work, but by how organized and responsive she can be when people ask for information or come to her with new opportunities. --Decide on your goal (what you can maintain) and break it into small steps. My art website ( isn‟t very comprehensive but I decided that I would upload work as it was completed. My work website stays dynamic through its blog: www. Look for websites that inspire you and pick apart the elements that would work in yours. Assign a due date for each item that gives you an appropriate amount of time. Think baby steps. Where are you in the process? If you want a website where do you need to start first? Taking pictures? Writing an artist statement? Fifteen minutes a day, every day. An elevator speech exercise can be helpful as a place to start. I loathe this exercise, but every time I‟m at a conference, I wish I‟d done it. Follow it with a draft of your artist statement or a mission statement for your organization. I remind myself that even though there are things I don‟t like about it, it‟s html and I can change it at any time. And it should be flexible that way – your work is always growing and changing. 2. It may be helpful to think of ‘audience’ as the people who make some kind of investment in your work. That investment might be their time – coming to see a show or being a mentor to you, it might be money – buying a ticket or making a grant, or giving a donation. You need to know who your audience is, because they define what where you sell your work, what you charge, what you make, how you make it, and even how you fund your organization. If your audience base changes over time but you fail to make changes in the rest of your organization, stress will follow. When you make a love connection with your audience, they will eagerly support you. They will engage and invent and spread the word about your work. Most people have more than one audience that they need to respond to. Buyers (might buy tickets or art) Donors (individuals) Grant makers (foundations, city agencies, and so on) Media (what Christa said). Your Mom. (also known as - the group of people you have to communicate with who don‟t understand your work AT ALL. ) Mentors – the creative network you draw upon for inspiration.
  4. 4. You may have other groups that you need to respond to, creatively. Buyers. The best way to make a living in arts and culture is to sell your work. To do this, you need to understand what your audience(s) loves about your work, and keep giving it to them. Individual artists can find it helpful to pay attention to their existing buyers and stay in touch with them. People are not just buying your work, they are buying a little bit of you. They probably think you are pretty cool and want to stay in touch as your career grows – the web makes this much easier and more affordable than it used to be, but you need to make that a conscious effort - reaching out to your audience. You may want to keep an email list and use it – but only when you have something interesting to share – workshop; show; new work. The people who have bought your work before are the folks that should hear about new work first. Performers sell tickets. Most of the time if you are a small performing arts org or museum in a small town, you know a great deal about who is or is not coming in the door without doing any expensive data collection. Some low cost web surveys might help you get feedback about new program ideas or gather information about what it is like for folks who visit your institution. is a good, free program. Bigger orgs collect data through ticket programs like Tessitura, that track purchasers‟ demographic information. Most of the time they are mining their database to find out who isn‟t there and how to get them in the door to increase income. They focus on understanding the „barriers‟ to cultural participation – the things that keep them from coming. Parking? Ticket price? Content of your shows? Cultural policy researchers and grant makers like Wallace Foundations have published a lot of information about how to approach these problems. Understanding this lingo and how your organization approaches these problems can be very helpful when writing grant proposals and talking with the grant making audience. It can also give you ideas on how to look at your organization‟s audience. Do the research findings help me think about my organization? Is there something that might be important to my audience that I didn‟t consider? Can I use it is part of my marketing message? Your audience is making a decision to attend within the context of many options, recognizing this can help you to be more effective in talking with them. It is important to pay attention to what is or isn‟t selling, so that you can make some decisions about how well your creative priorities support your business plan. If your goal is to be financially successful, you will have to create a balance between how you can make money and what it is you want to do for a living. You may have to work at a job you aren‟t in love with and make art on the side. You might have to add another Broadway show to your season lineup to
  5. 5. pay for more experimental work that doesn‟t attract as many ticket buyers. It may mean that you find out your work really isn‟t selling and why so that you need to go back to the drawing board and develop a new „product‟. If your goal is to be true to your creative vision, you may have to lower your expectations about income in the shorter-term, and dedicate some resources to fundraising from donors and/or grant makers to fill that gap. All of these options are challenging. It is much easier to make and sell work than it is to get grants. My opinion. GRANT MAKERS Grant makers are an audience. Grant makers are making an INVESTMENT. The expected RETURN is community change or impact. Getting a grant means that you have made a match – between the foundation‟s giving strategy in a community of need. Somehow, your project aligns with the trustees‟ goals and they believe your work will help move the community from A to B. I take a piece of paper and draw two columns – 1) what the grant maker is looking for – make a step by step list of all their program interests; easiest way to understand how their goals are put into practice is to look at lists of previous grants; 2) second column is how my project meets those needs. And the application is shaped from those illustrated connections. Equally important is what we call organizational capacity – or the ability of the applicant to pull it off. A funder is looking at your application or proposal to see if you can do what you say. They look at financials and history of accomplishment. Is the budget reasonable given what you say you‟d like to accomplish? Often they judge by the basics: was the application timely and complete? Was the information presented accurately? Did you respond to deadlines? Many program officers have a lot of applications to review and they are looking for the simple clues about performance and ability to follow through. It is important to know that most program officers are accountable to a board, which means they are not the only person who has a say in whether or not your grant goes through. Work with the program officer to find out what s/he needs to know about your work so that they can argue for your project to their board. A good strategy is to be prepared, anticipate their needs, and deliver your materials in a format that is brief and accessible. If you can understand and use their lingo, it can be very helpful. *be succinct* I have a theory – it seems that 10 percent of organizations get 90 percent of the available grant dollars. My theory is that this happens because the organizations have learned to be savvy communicators. Work samples hardly ever get looked at but, when they are necessary, good quality samples make the critical difference. They do not have time to respond to your emails, be persistent – but communicate in a gentle, respectful way. Do not let your frustration show. They are unlikely to attend events they are invited to because of the demand. As useless as all these gestures seem, they are still communication – even if the grant maker doesn‟t seem to respond. All this sharing
  6. 6. that you are doing builds a memory of who you are and what your work is about for the program officer. Present yourself as the person you wish to be seen to be. DONORS A different dance – know what moves them and try to make a genuine match. You will spend a lot more time with them, cultivating their interest. Works best when there is already a genuine commitment to and interest in your work. Some donors, like some program officers, like the attention. Be aware, beware. Advice for working with the wealthy – remember that EVERYONE is asking. Not just you. ---be genuine and straightforward about your intentions in the relationship. Don‟t fake a friendship hoping for money. Other ideas – pool a group of donors with more limited resources to create a “commissioners circle” – a group that can fund new work or support another project. A great way to engage younger adults. I make, therefore, I am. Sociologist Richard Sennet wrote a really interesting book called The Craftsmen. He talks about the skills we develop in the course of making art. The product is not just a physical object, but a whole web of social relationships, even environments. He believes that it is the essence of human nature to find emotional rewards in creative production. CREATIVE NETWORK Therefore….You should be interacting with peers and mentors in your creative network just because you enjoy it and it helps you grow, artistically. It will also lead you in the direction you want to go. The most valuable things I receive via my creative network is 1) feedback on my work-in- progress; 2) inspiration; 3) interaction with supportive, like-minded folks; 4) encouragement to share new ideas, even if they are “risky” (no hoarding) ; 5) using the best materials I can afford and finishing my work to the highest standard. Most artists are very generous about sharing their knowledge and skills and are looking for a genuine exchange. What do you have to offer that is interesting? How can you work together, offering them some creative inspiration? Not all about THEM teaching YOU.
  7. 7. Speaking in tongues… The materials above (website, blog, work samples) are basic tools you need to tell your story to your audience(s). If you have these items you can immediately ask yourself: Who is my audience in this situation? What kind of information do they need to understand my work and how do they need the information presented? You are not making some sort of spiritual compromise, you are simply telling your story using the language that the audience understands. Be responsive because you are prepared. Resources: --slides can be found at: -- telling your story - „elevator speech‟: --audience research/engagement (links on slides) --fundraising (links on slides) --kaizen – 15 minute a day management plan. (link on slides)