IMHO: Audience Engagement Definitions [now with updates!]

January 20, 2015 — 4 Comments
New blogger request for forgiveness, the original post needed more before I moved on. All updates, made 1/24/15 appear in this fetching orange.

A Google search of audience engagement yields a bevy of infographics:
Audience Engagement Confusion

And many definitions… (underlining all mine)

From Doug Borwick’s blog Engagement Matters:

“Audience Engagement is a marketing strategy designed for deepening relationships with current stakeholders and expanding reach over time. Also internally focused (artcentric), it may result in new modes/venues of presentation and means of illuminating/explaining the arts to the public. Typically, ‘outreach’ is an example of audience engagement.”

From Trevor O’Donnell’s blog Marketing the Arts to Death(link updated)

“Development professionals are unusually adept at initiating, nurturing and sustaining relationships with community members so the fit is ideal: engagement is merely an extension of the work that development departments already do.”

From WolfBrown’s Report Making Sense of Audience Engagement:

“Audience engagement is defined as a guiding philosophy in the creation and delivery of arts experiences in which the paramount concern is maximizing impact on the participant. Others refer to this vein of work as ‘enrichment programming’ or ‘adult education.’

Is it a “marketing strategy” as Mr. Borwick suggested? What does that mean for measuring success–ultimately only in numbers of people and dollars through the door?

Is it more relationship cultivation akin to development as Mr. O’Donnell suggested? If we embraced this, might it dramatically alter arts funding practices?

Is it essentially an organizing principle + strategic thinking framework as WolfBrown suggested? Why look outside of arts organizations’ artistic programming to do that; why not radiate from the artistic experience outward? Engagement as artistic imperative?

#thisdefiningaudienceengagementshitcanbesuperconfusing

SO WHY DON’T YOU TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!?!

Slide3

You caught me: I launched another definition into the blogosphere. But the intention of doing so, as an artist-administrator obsessed with integrating artistic and organizational advancement work, is to simplify and personalize, and stop the “whose responsibility should it be” back-and-forth that many definitions of audience engagement result in.

Points of clarification:

  • “Artcentric”: extending Mr. Borwick’s definition, audience engagement is driven by our role as artists in our community; therefore, our sweep of activities is going to be driven by our work (a.k.a. the art).
  • Mission Oriented (or even driven!): audience engagement should be an extension of your raison d’etre. Work within the enabling constraints of why the organization exists and what it seeks to accomplish.
  • Organization Curated: at the most basic level, someone inside the organization originated the audience engagement program idea or is saying “yes” or “no”; organizations can provide tremendous leeway and agency to collaborators and partners but audience engagement is selected and “held” by the organization.
  • Different from Community Engagement and Audience Development: these all have different outcomes. (More on IMHO the difference in a future post).

In addition to knowing why your particular organization (based on its mission) is embarking on this “audience engagement” thing, a baseline of shared values must exist and woven into the fabric of every activity.

Slide4

And that seems as good a place as any to stop, and step away from the keyboard. 

Do you have a preferred definition of audience engagement, whether it’s your’s or someone else’s?

We at A Big Eyed Fish would love to hear it!

4 responses to IMHO: Audience Engagement Definitions [now with updates!]

  1. 

    Bless your heart for even trying. The arts haven’t figured out what marketing is in the last forty years, so it’s hard to imagine anyone defining, let alone knowing how to do, engagement.

    The iconoclast in me can’t help wondering if all the time and energy that arts pros, funders and policy wonks spend talking about engagement might be better spent outside the bubble connecting with regular folks and encouraging them to participate.

    And the businessman in me knows that what most large, revenue-dependent organizations really need is sales. Not engagement, which nobody understands, but sales, which everybody understands but nobody seems to want to do.

    • 

      Bless your heart for the comment. I cannot agree more that getting out of our buildings, meeting and connecting with “regular folk” around what their doing is the answer; and less time bunkered inside our own buildings trying to get people to come to you. I’m letting my thoughts dribble out this week and over the upcoming months on this…. but I can respond that sales-only is clearly not working, great excitement from marketing folk about engagement strategies, yet huge resistance to change.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Most Confusing Infographic Ever: audience engagement, community engagement & audience development « A Big Eyed Fish - January 26, 2015

    […] on A Big Eyed Fish, in defining audience engagement I noted that it was “artcentric” and differed from community engagement and audience […]

  2. Break that control habit! « A Big Eyed Fish - July 21, 2016

    […] shared with attendees that our jobs are to consider how we can develop a sweep of activities that would more intimately entangle the art, audience, and artist (which includes the producing or curating organization). Every artwork presents us with a new […]

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