The arts industry, beyond genres

FenceJune is conference month for arts managers. We all know the drill: sit through sessions, hobnob, and think about trying to new things that you may or may have the guts to try when you get back to your desk. I attended one of these conferences and have been listening to everyone’s feedback on the conferences they’ve attended and have come to the non-earth-shattering realization: we’re all having the same conversations.

The conversations that I had and heard about social media at Opera America were nearly identical to conversations that I've had with my friends in the non-profit theatre and orchestra industry. Yet when we try to have cross-disciplinary conversations, people start putting up walls—“Well, he works in with an orchestra. Tell me how that research relates to MY patrons.” Many of our problems are shared, we just don't get together to talk about them. Although we have the technology to collaborate, find conversations and have discussions—many of us simply don’t.

In the same sense, conferences bring us together, but they also isolate us. They affirm labels and barriers in some cases, and in others, break them. When we stand strong as orchestra managers, are we still standing strong as arts advocates? When we are united as arts marketing professionals, are we still loyal to our own organizations?

One of the sessions from the Opera America stuck with me. The session, New and Unusual Opera (a play on words with “cruel and unusual”?) was about new ways to think about opera as an art form--thinking outside the boundaries of our industry. Opera industry vet John Conklin started the session by playing "Nessun Dorma" sung by none other than Aretha Franklin. (See below.) Of course, that got the expected chuckle from the audience. But Conklin went on to make the point that, for the majority of the American public, that’s opera. If people can embrace this music on their own terms, what are we doing putting up a barrier against their entry point? Why are we so against the crossover of pop music and opera, or opera market research and orchestra market research, or the marketing and development departments within our own organizations?

Challenge for this week: Have an experience in an industry outside your own. Subscribe to a development blog if you're a marketer. Follow an opera company if you work at a museum. New ideas spring from new experiences. Start having new conversations and start breaking down those barriers for yourself and for the arts industry.