An account of the Matt Lehrman seminar jointly sponsored by the Austin Creative Alliance and publicists Wyatt-Brand at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center, July 28, published in the Austin Chronicle, August 4:
Crisis and Opportunity:
Do you know your audience?
by Robert Faires
For the second session in its ongoing series Crisis & Opportunity, the Austin Creative Alliance made the shift from a wide-ranging community conversation (see "Crisis & Opportunity: An Open, Structured Dialogue," June 17) to what might have seemed to some to be just a standard workshop on marketing. But while the July 28 presentation by Matt Lehrman, executive director of Arizona's Alliance for Audience and ShowUp.com (an Arizona equivalent to the Austin Creative Alliance's NowPlayingAustin.com listings site), may indeed have had the most value for folks in the performing arts scoping out new strategies to build their audiences, it turned out to be valuable for anyone who cares about the state of creativity in our culture now and how people interact with it. Lehrman developed his seminar and soon-to-be book Audiences Everywhere! in response to Danny Newman's Subscribe Now!, the tome that sold most of the country's arts nonprofits on the idea that subscriptions were the key to their financial security and stability. That book was rightfully influential and still contains much information that's useful, Lehrman maintains, but it also came out the year that the Apple II computer and the space shuttle debuted. He asks whether our culture changed at all since then. If so, it's worth re-examining the way that audiences relate to cultural organizations.
His thesis rests on a division of audiences along x and y axes of interest in a specific organization's work (or the arts in general) and capacity to experience that work (based on time, money, physical ability, etc.). Those with the most interest and capacity – i.e., those who are already patrons and likely faithful ones, too – are the "devoted." Those with interest but less capacity are "oriented;" those with high capacity but little interest are "uninspired;" and those with low interest and low capacity are "asleep." Identifying and understanding the specifics of what engages people and what keeps them from being engaged with the arts will do more to help an artist or arts organization build an audience than catchall strategies like subscription drives or massive ad campaigns.
[photo: Austin Creative Alliance)