pARTicipation from TEDxMichiganAve



I had the honor of hosting and curating TEDxMichiganAve earlier this month, an independently organized TED event focused on the future of the arts industry with thirteen speakers from around the country dealing on everything from technology in the arts to arts education to sustainability practices
within the industry. I was deeply touched by the applications I got for speakers, and even more amazed by the quality of ideas that each and every speaker had that were absolutely worth spreading, both in the arts industry and beyond.

I’ve been asked many times now what the prevailing themes were for the talks in advance of the videos being completed, and the first one that came out very clearly was that of participation of audiences, of getting our arts patrons involved in the art making process. Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philharmonic has a brilliant TED Talk himself where he speaks to this as a conductor and music director, how he has been able through participation to get anyone and everyone emotionally connected to the work through understanding and being an active listener.


One of our speakers at TEDxMichiganAve, David Dombrosky of the Center for Arts Management and Technology at Carnegie Mellon University, quoted for us “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” Scott Walters, professor at the University of North Carolina and director of CRADLE (Center for Rural Arts Development and Leadership Education), extolled us to celebrate the amateur artists of the world be they on YouTube and deviantART or right in your own neighborhood, a sentiment I strongly believe in as those are the greatest champions of the arts, those that understand and participate themselves in the process. And while these speakers and the others weren’t speaking at any point exclusively about social media, social media tools have opened up potential audiences and potential creators around the world to such an amazing wealth of potential that the arts professionals of the world must grasp with both hands.


As social media professionals, we all understand this connection a little better than the average person in the arts industry (or many other industries for that matter). We can facilitate these connectionsin our industries and attract others to our purpose.


Adam Thurman, Director of Marketing at Chicago’s Court Theatre, talked about the normally political concept of hard power and soft power as it relates to putting butts in seats. Hard power is when we tell our audiences how good our product or service is for them, how they need us, how the arts improve test scores, and so forth. All true, but sometimes exhausting for us as well as our patrons. Thurman wants us to embrace soft power, the power of attraction, showing our patrons that we are just like them, that the things that we speak of in our art are things that speak directly to them. It’s a message that gets to good missions, but also exceptional messaging, reaching out, and caring.

That’s the opportunity for social media in the arts industry and in your own. To influence via soft power, to encourage participation, to make the connections between you and your company and the lives of your patrons.

I speak often on my own blog, ArtsAppeal, about experience design. How to build loyalty to our organizations, we must look far beyond products and services. These aren’t what people really buy. They buy experiences. We must be the ones, as social media artists ourselves, to craft that experience and drive loyalty through participation and engagement. What starts as a YouTube choir, can become the catalyst for an entire new generation of deeply involved patrons of the arts.