engagement…

I’ve been on an “arts engagement” kick lately. It’s my new buzz-word. I’m like a five-year-old who’s learned a new “knock-knock” joke and then imposes it on every new human being he comes across.

This is largely because, due to my work with Monroe County Civic Theater and the fact that I’m friends with the director of the Arts Administration program here at IU, I’ve had the chance to explore a lot of new ideas, concepts, and so forth about non-profit operations in general and arts organizations in general.

Specifically, I’ve been working my way, slowly but surely, through Audience 2.0, a 2010 paper published by National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  Based on the Endowment’s 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, it takes an impressively deep look at how Americans participate in the arts both live and via technology, and how these different methods of participation influence one another (also on my desk is the 2011 report, Beyond Attendance:  A multi-modal understanding of arts participation, which covers similar ground).

While there’s a wealth of information — which I hope to keep sharing and discussing — one of the major take-aways from the report is a finding that actually took the researchers by surprise:  “people who engage with art through media technologies attend live performances or arts exhibits at two to three times the rate of non-media arts participants.”

Put another way, let’s say that my husband and I both enjoy classical music.  However, whereas I love attending concerts but will also watch excerpts on YouTube, my husband is a bit more of a purist and will only listen to classical music at live performances.  What the NEA found is that someone like myself in this situation is going to attend double or even triple the amount of live performances as someone like my husband (even though, as a purist, he would likely consider himself the superior music-lover).

This turns out to be wonderful news for artists who, for years now, have either refused to acknowledge or outright resisted the exponential growth of media outlets for content of all kinds.  While there’s certainly more to be discussed, the report suggests with impressive confidence that arts engagement via media technology does not replace live participation but in fact encourages, expands, and enhances it.

This probably comes as no surprise to those who have followed arts trends for the last decade or more, as things like opera broadcasts, live-streaming, and other tech innovations have been utilized to expand audiences to unprecedented levels.  But it is surely gratifying to have the hard data in hand, confirming what we’ve already begun seeing anecdotally.

Surprise or not, it’s very encouraging.  And I hope it will urge arts organizations of all kinds to continue broadening their usage of technology to promote and advocate for their work.

*****

On a related note, the Sunday Times had a provocative profile of Ukrainian concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa, focused on how, in the reporter’s words, Lisitsa “resurrected a completely stalled career through YouTube.”

After a midlife crisis when she considered quitting music, Ms. Lisitsa decided to be proactive.  her husband filmed her playing Chopin’s 24 Etudes, which they released as a DVD on Amazon.com in 2007. The couple were initially irritated when people uploaded sections to YouTube, but they decided to upload the entire DVD themselves as a promotion.  The tactic worked, and sales increased.

Now, clearly, this case is presented in isolation.  But I’m interested in discovering what data exist showing to what degree the trend reported in Audience 2.0 regarding arts participation is also present in commercial activity (ie, is Lisitsa’s experience just a fluke?).

In the mean-time, here’s one of those early Chopin videos, in which she basically makes Op 10 No 4 her bitch: