How the Arts Can Stay Relevant and Adapt to our Changing Culture

The presentation below, by Diane Ragsdale, is one of the most powerful talks I’ve heard on the state of the arts in a long time.  After arguing that the arts have lost their way in today’s quickly changing society, she makes a series of concrete suggestions that can help get us adapt to the culture change and regain our relevance. 

“You may hear these ideas and think…hmmm…we’re already doing this. Or that would never work for us. Or we don’t need to do any of these things; we’re doing just fine.  And I am sure you’re correct in each case,” Ragsdale jokes. 

Highly recommended for both artists and arts administrators.  This is a long video, but it’s well worth your time.  To help organize, here are her major suggestions:

  1. 11:13     Don’t conflate big numbers with big impact.   More important than number of people who buy your product is the depth of their loyalty and the quality of their engagement.
  2. 13:11     Go cellular.  Create small, personal social networks who experience your art as a community.
  3. 14:48     Go slow.  People do have time to experience the arts, even if they say they don’t.  There is a slow food movement; why not a slow art movement?
  4. 16:45     Free the art, and free the people.  Concert halls may no longer be desirable for today’s audiences.  Give music away (free and low cost) to develop awareness.  Allow patrons to become devoted participants.  Patron as critic. Let go of artistic hierarchies–it’s all valuable.  Diversify your art. Be prepared to lose old customers to gain new ones. 
  5. 25:35     Be a concierge.  Help people make decisions.  Create alliances between arts organizations, instead of competing against one another.  Customize packages or create themes that cut across genres and types of products.  Celebrate “cultural omnivores,” and make it easy for them to explore. 
  6. 30:11     Focus on seeing better, rather than selling better.  Instead of simply trying cool new marketing tactics, answer a more fundamental question: why don’t people care more?  The challenges facing the arts are not new; we’ve been moving in this direction for 30+ years.  The goal should not simply be garnering enough financial support, but ensuring relevance that will carry us into the future. 

Diane Ragsdale on Surviving the Culture Change (Full Remarks) from Arts Alliance Illinois on Vimeo.

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