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I’m working with the Arts Marketing Association UK’s Audience Diversity Academy (#ADA) as a mentor for their pilot round (July 2016-January 2017). One of my responsibilities is blogging. Here’s a post I wrote. To access posts from all the fellows and mentors, click here.


I approach my work with an experimental state of mind and tend to forget, as we all do, that not everyone shares my world view. In a session with one of my academy fellows, I was reminded how intimidating the word “experiment” can be. That word alone was holding her it back. It was her kryptonite. Every time she heard “experiment” she thought “laborious and detailed,” “precise and sterile,” and “complicated, boring, and HARD TO DO AND NO ONE WILL WANT TO DO IT INCLUDING ME.”**

And it doesn’t matter if you pair “experiment” with terms like “agile” because the predominant narrative or implicit bias is the one around “experiment.”

So step one is to change the narrative; step two is to put yourself in the experimental state of mind.

photo-by-teresa-wood-from-dog-pony-dcs-workshop-of-toast

Audience activity from dog & pony dc’s workshop of TOAST; photo by Teresa Wood.

CREATIVE (& FUN)

Picture a cartoon chemist in her lab. She’s wearing big owl-eyed glasses that hang from a beaded chain around her neck and a white lab coat. The light-filled lab is packed with colorful liquids in glass flasks connected by tubing. The chemist carefully pours solid-colored liquids from two different test tubes into a beaker and it yields–a rainbow colored result! And then explodes with sparkling smoke and leaves her hair all wackadoo. “That wasn’t what I expected,” she exclaims and makes notes on a pad. She’s smiling, because experimenting is creative and fun. It’s a creative and fun activity that’s designed to teach you something. This is the change in the narrative that my academy fellow needed to make first and foremost. Whenever you see, hear, or say “experiment” replace the word with “learn something in a creative and fun way.” “Creative and fun” is also the fundamental principle for the “experimental state of mind,” especially for all of us working in the arts. Why would we want it any other way?

(And “fun”? It’s a flexible term, obviously. But I’d wager we can agree that completing a written survey via email or paper with likert scale questions is neither fun nor creative.)

NO THING IS TOO SMALL

For the academy, the AMA created a great form called a “progress record” for the fellows to track their experiments. (Forms–not commonly considered creative or fun, but incredible handy none the less.) When shaping an experiment in the context of systemic change (like diversity) and asked to track progress, suddenly there’s an overwhelming feeling that the experiment needs to be long, interconnected series of events with a (positive) growth outcome. This is not the way to exist in an experimental state of mind. Get zen and think small. Remember that an experiment is a planned activity from which you hope to learn something. Any intentional divergence from the status quo could be considered an experiment. The way you facilitate one meeting could be an experiment. The types of questions you ask during that meeting could be an experiment. The method you collect answers can be an experiment. It can feel a bit silly when you’re working systemically and long term, thinking tactically and practically IS the experimental way.

ALWAYS WINNING

When you adopt the experimental mindset and the emphasis is on what you’re taking away from each of your activities the emphasis is always on what you learned. You line up the experiments, one after another. What did I expect? What happened? What did I learn? What will I do differently next time? Then repeat! This means the emphasis is on the quality of the learning not the execution of the experiment. I believe that’s why experimenting in the arts is often labeled “working scrappy” and can bring about a little experimenter shame. Eff-that! Trying to be perfect is antithetical to the experimental state of mind. It means you already know the answer; it means people might mess up your experiment. Our experiments in the arts around audience and diversity all have people at the center and therefore must be inviting. (See point #1 about creative and fun.) More importantly, we should not ever expect to know what the answers will be. Experiments begin with a question or a hypothesis, and we should expect to–even be excited about–discovering our previous understanding was completely off base. That we were wrong. This means we were “failing.” Hooray! Now we can “fail forward,” learning from our experiment and, we hope, make improvements. Learning is winning.

To wrap up, the experimental state of mind is not for everyone. Some of us come from a fixed mindset rather than a growth one. Fixed mindset folks like established routines and avoid challenges; nothing wrong with that at all. Those of us who are looking for change could stand to adopt some experimental practices. Remembering to think small and look for opportunities to experiment everywhere, emphasize the learning no matter to outcome, and permit yourself to be creative and fun will flip the script of what creating experiments is all about. Now what are you waiting for–get to work!

 

** On the other hand: some will think that if you’re only doing an “experiment” it’s not real or valid work. That it can’t amount to anything, build a foundation, or propel your forward. Not so at all. It’s the foundation of a growth-mindset environment in which you are working responsively to the world around you.

My first encounter with Peggy McIntosh‘s concept of “the invisible knapsack” was in 1999. I was 23 years old. I had just moved to Washington, DC a few months prior to work at Arena Stage in the education department (a two person plus an intern office at that time). We were to work closely with Living Stage Theatre Company, seek alignment between the “two organizations” (not really separate since Living Stage was a part of Arena but that’s another story). The entire staff at Living Stage and the education department went through an intensive, multi-day anti-racism/anti-oppression training with the great Rebecca Rice and Erika Thorne. I contextualize because it was a gift I thank the universe for every day.

It was the first time I became aware of the reality of systemic racism, White supremacy, and the backpack of privilege I carry with me everywhere.

walking-backpacks-canvas-rucksack-backpack-for-school.jpgW.E.B. Du Bois described the concept of “psychological wage”in his 1935 essay Black Reconstruction in America. It was a mindset, a status boost, that allowed White laborers to feel superior, to feel better-than Black ones in the workplace despite being on the same employment level. Du Bois would go on to identify the colonial activity of Europeans and subsequent “White supremacy” across the world. While the term “white-skin privilege” was used during the Civil Rights era by activities, it wasn’t until Peggy McIntosh, a Women’s Studies scholar at Wellesley, wrote her essay “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” in 1988 that the term gained traction.

McIntosh, a White woman like me, was “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” But in methodically going through and identifying the daily, seemingly mundane effects of her White Privilege–her mind was blown.

My mind was also blown when my knapsack was pointed out in 1999… and I journeyed through a series of extremely typical responses people of privilege do when confronted for the first time (in this case White people confronted with White privilege and systemic racism):

  • What?!? No!
  • Sure, but not me? I’m not like that.
  • All White people!?!?
  • But I’ve had friends who are not White. I’ve dated non-Whites. I’ve….
  • Does this mean [enter Black friend’s name] won’t be my friend anymore?
  • Not me.
  • Oh my, me? Me? 

And this was not a five-minute journey. And there was crying. Because of course there was. There was a lot of guilt. There were long periods of knapsack removal and ignoring attempts. There was a long stretch of extreme over-compensation in which I was the most obnoxious “righteous not-listening person because ‘I am a person in-the-know’.”

At this point, I think I’m in a phase of perpetual “working on it.” But that’s a wobbly phase. The knapsack, it is invisible and therefore so easy to forget. There’s no ridding myself of it. There’s no emptying it. Somedays I am back in my “not-listening person” state and bless the patience of everyone around me as I swing my knapsack around and point screaming at all the knapsacks on everyone around me. [shudders at self with embarrassment, then gets over it]

The point: privilege is a knapsack society packed for us and slapped on our backs. The first step on the journey is acknowledging it’s there.

Is that your bag? Yup.


Not familiar with McIntosh’s article? Follow this link for a commonly excerpted version.

A privilege is an advantage, or right, or opportunity, or pleasure, or immunity granted to a particular person or group of people. “Privilege” is the holding of a set of advantages, rights, opportunities, pleasures, and/or immunities as a person or group of people. By definition it means there are others who do are disadvantaged, left out and behind, uncomfortable, pained. By definition it means there is imbalance and inequality (according to yesterday’s post, does it imply those who are “unlucky” according to “the system’s standards”).

Another definition of privilege I’ve encountered, from Facebook of all places, is this: “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you personally.”
Privilege is when.png

Phoenix Calida defined and broke-down “privilege” thusly:

Privilege simply means that under the exact same set of circumstances your in, life would be harder without your privilege.
Being poor is hard. Being poor and disabled is harder.
Being a woman is hard. Being a trans woman is harder.
Being a white woman is hard, being a woman of color is harder.
Being a black man is hard, being a gay black man is harder.

This does not mean that having privilege, unearned advantages, in any area automatically makes life “better.” But it does mean “all things being equal” doesn’t exist. The starting line will always be ahead. Less metaphorically, it means that anyone holding privilege is more likely to have power or being in positions of power. They are more likely to share this power with people “like them.” And power-sharing, whether it’s investment tips, a role in a play, or the benefit of the doubt when stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation, increases the “betterment” for only some.


Are there definitions of privilege you’ve found useful? Please share. In this case: sharing knowledge to all –> empowering all to affect positive change.

The GiverIn Lois Lowry’s The Giver, members of a dystopian future society enact an apology ritual around even the slightest error. The wrongdoer states “I apologize for [__brief description of wrong doing__].” The wronged respond, “I accept your apology.” The apology ritual is performed between two individuals, an individual and her family, and even an individual and the entire community.

I listened to the audio book and watched the movie of The Giver within a few months of each other last year, ironically after spending considerable time deprogramming myself from continually saying “sorry.” (Unlike the characters in The Giver however, I was actually taking emotional responsibility for all the little things I was apologizing for—yikes!) My personal distancing from the “s” word and the repeat exposure to The Giver heightened my awareness to the number of colleagues constantly apologizing, directly or indirectly.

My amazingly talented colleague Ivania Stack (yup, another amazing person you should check out) and I adopted the ritual from The Giver in order to playful help all of us recognize we were either dropping the “s” word gratuitously or unnecessarily taking responsibility via an apology: we, and others, now immediately respond back with “I accept your apology.” It gets laughs and knowing nods… and I would like to think it helps. Colbert Apology Accept But let’s touch on the flip side: actually allowing your community to care for you by accepting your apologies. Last night in rehearsal, a question about whether I liked an idea the group was bandying about caught me off guard. Low on sleep, high on stress, amused by the idea but trying to think through how it would manifest in the show, my response was a strange defensive explosion of “why would you think I didn’t like it of course I do come on why are we singling me out what could I possibly be doing that would make you think otherwise!?!?!” I apologized. We moved on. At the break, I apologized directly to the question-asker again and with true sincerity she responded “I accept your apology.”

I SO NEEDED THAT. I'm Sorry It's okI needed her to accept my apology. I needed for her to recognize I made a mistake, and acknowledge she could forgive my actions and move past them. And she needed me to deal promptly, honestly, and directly with the exchange. In fact: the entire group present needed it, all fifteen of us.

This is how healthy communities are created and maintained, be they workplaces, families, or dystopian future societies: open lines of communication, personal responsibility, authenticity of voice, transparency of process. Adopting and enacting ritualistic actions, whether consciously or unconsciously, does not connect us with one another when they are devoid of meaning. Endowing actions with intension, allowing them to carry the appropriate weight, and sharing support with your colleagues—forms powerful bonds between individuals and continually reinforces them over time.

I looked around the interwebs for more on women in particular and over-apologizing. Thought I would share a few of my findings here:

Sorry, Not Sorry--Why Women Need to Stop Apologizing for Everything

I'm Sorry But I'm Not Going to Stop Apologizing

When "I'm Sorry" Is Too Much

flesh colored crayonsIn honor of February, I propose an official ban on the phrase “I don’t see color” and derivative phrases of this sentiment used in the non-profit theatre community like “color-blind [___fill in the blank___].”

Who’s with me?

Not convinced already.

/sigh

  •  Watch part two of Jane Elliot’s The Angry Eye, starting at 10:00 (ps found one #withcaptions). Sharing not as an endorsement necessarily, but at 10:15 she asks a student if he identifies as male and black; he confirms he does. She asks if it is important to him ; he confirms it is. Why would we want to deny this of him by “not seeing” it, she asks.
  • Did anyone hear about Benedict Cumberbatch’s use of “colored people” in an interview with Tavis Smiley, referring to black actors? (what he said at bottom of article) Yes, the phrase “People of Color” is widely used, abbreviated to POC. I have also heard POC referred to as “People of Culture” which I both am interested in (gets away from “colored people”) and uncomfortable with (moves us in the #allLivesmatter direction). This is a roundabout way of saying, let’s check our vilifications and generalizations.
  • In December Lavina Jadhwani (Artistic Associate, Silk Road Rising and Oak Park Festival Theatre) shared her thoughts on color conscious casting in a HowlRound journal article. She details the process she and her design team went through in casting The Dutchess of Malfi at DePaul University. Getting a thorough look inside their decision making—fascinating. But what I loved was how concisely she summarized “the issue” in her opening paragraph: “I can’t think of an environment, in real life, where race doesn’t factor into relationship dynamic….I prefer the term ‘color conscious casting,’ by which I mean that race is acknowledged in, and ideally deepens, theatrical conversations.”

While my undergrad theatre instruction was narrow, it taught me that “to ignore” is not an active verb tactic. The same is true of white people when it comes to negotiating conversations about race.

If you too decide to ban “color-blind [___fill in the blank___]” from here on out, I recommend starting with reading Jadhwani’s HowlRound piece and these two articles. The first one (shared with me by the amazing Natalie Hopkinson who you should also follow because, well, she’s amazing) eventually introduced me to the word “unbalanced” to describe the feeling people of privilege have when discussing or navigating situations that spotlight their privilege. It’s not something we’re used to seeing. But it is a part of our identity, and there’s humbling strength to embrace it.


FWIW, Benedict Cumberbatch said:

“I think as far as colored actors go it gets really different in the U.K., and a lot of my friends have had more opportunities here [in the U.S.] than in the U.K., and that’s something that needs to change.”

“We’re not representative enough in our culture of different races, and that really does need to step up apace.”

How long have I been percolating on engagement and the arts? At least since 2006.

In cleaning my office, found these notes from the 2006 TCG Annual Conference in Atlanta. The topic? “Building Future Audience”

Thought I would share some notes from Kevin McCarthy’s “Understanding Arts Participation as a Behavioral Process,” a panel entitled “Who is the Audience of the Future?” with Guy Garcia and Wendy Puriefoy, moderated by Susan Booth and a closing address from TCG’s former executive director, Ben Cameron.

Enjoy (if you can read) and THANKS TCG for being awesome.

Previously on A Big Eyed Fish, in defining audience engagement I noted that it was “artcentric” and differed from community engagement and audience development.

In order to better show the relationship between a work of art, audience and community engagement, and audience development, I whipped up this infographic using my low-tech graphic design skills in PowerPoint:

Slide1Totally clears it all up, right?

Ok. Unlike a really excellent infographic, mine needs a little additional explanation.

Starting with the work of art:

  • The artwork drives our audience engagement programming choices. There’s a strong one-way relationship there and lots of overlap.
  • IMHO: audience engagement programming creation works best if we involve many different micro-communities or stakeholders  in the process. As a result of the art making or audience engagement program creation, we may form relationships with individuals outside our current artist/staff/board/audience/volunteer sphere. As soon as these new-to-us individuals or organizations become key participants in programming, this transitions into “community engagement.”* There is a strong two-way relationship between strategic community engagement and audience engagement, with some overlap.
  • The strong two-way relationship between audience and community engagement can result in a strong, positive audience growth for that specific artwork/art event or audience engagement program. It’s possible that as a result, this could result in future audience and community engagement programming.

While my infographic pales in comparison in terms of creativity and exploration of content, I believe it serves as a helpful reminder.  Each “programming area” has a distinct objective and, while related, they do not seek to achieve the same ends. Actors cannot play two objectives. Neither can engagement programmers. Don’t ignore what else is happening, but play out your part to its fullest.

 

*Note: as soon as one embarks on “community engagement” a different set of rules of engagement (pun intended) apply. More at another time but worth saying that you cannot “drag and drop” people. 

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!

I resolve this new year, two-thousand and fifteen, to use words with meaning.

As in, not to use words without the idea that is being represented by the aforementioned word.
As in, not to use words to describe something and then not do it.
As in, to attempt to mean what I say and say what I mean.

In the early Fall of 2014, Rachel and I were crafting a 2.0 version of our National Arts Marketing Project pre-conference (Playing in the Deep End of Audience Engagement) and she asked what I thought we needed to cover this year that we did not cover the previous. I love these conferences and the way they bring people together, but for me, industry conferences can also be a hotbed of jargon.

jargon print screen merriam webster online

Merriam Webster.com (the source from which this except was Print Scrn’d from above) goes on to define jargon as:

1

  1. confused unintelligible language
  2. a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect
  3. a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech

2

  1. the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group

3

  1. obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words

In my opinion, jargon is a poison. Once the word crosses the threshold into jargon, it is almost certain it will not be able to recover its soul, its authenticity, or its respect in the eyes of those who employ the use of the word. It will suffer a fate similar to terms such as “buy-in,” “synergy,” and “best practices. ” It loses its actual meaning, and is therefore subject to empty usage. This is my fear for the term Audience Engagement.

Type this term into Google and you’ll get 13,600,000 results, ranging from the WolfBrown study Making Sense of Audience Engagement, to articles on blogs with titles like “Innovation Insider” and “Life Business Integrity dot com” where they show you 12 Powerful Audience Engagement Tools (which are actually all just different kinds of survey platforms), to word clouds that include “value” and “brand” and “follow.” This to me is a broad (but accurate) representation of how Audience Engagement is viewed in the arts field — some really digging in to make sense of this term, engaging in critical thought and discussion about it, and some tweeting a link to buy tickets and ticking off their “audience engagement” counter.

It is hard to take jargon seriously — easy to tack jargon on to the end of a business plan or grant report to appear impressive to a panel of experts.

My fear is that Audience Engagement, real, authentic, face-to-face interactions and reciprocal conversations with audience members, is becoming an effort that is hard to take seriously and easy to talk big about.

All that I am asking is that you really dig in, make sense of what Audience Engagement means for your organization or your art form. How can you make it feel true to you and what you’re doing? What are small steps you can take to not just release content, but create dialogue and conversation? See beyond your outputs?

 

Melanie Harker is a conspirator with dog & pony dc, as well as Rachel Grossman’s sidekick. You can see her musings @MelanieGwynne on twitter.