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


Before I started writing this blog post, I did the following:

Read the newspaper
Check Facebook
Check Twitter
Think about the other blog post I had to write
Check personal email account
Text
Start writing the other blog post
Check Facebook
Text
Read a few online articles
Make a cup of tea
Text
Have a Skype date
Facebook
Text
Email
Think about this blog post
Make a snack and eat it
Start writing this blog post

To rush to my defense: it was a Saturday and I was sick, my spouse was out of town, the house was clean, I canceled my work engagement. I didn’t need to do anything. And yet: an invisible force compelled me to compose two blog posts.

heart lightThe invisible force resulted from the value of “productivity”—being active and yielding a result, outcome, or accomplishment. I value productivity and I will prioritize productive activities vs. non-productive ones (like streaming crap television), even when I’m under the weather. It makes me feel good. Obviously this doesn’t mean I work in a streamlined manner, because I also value creativity and the creative process. I understand it takes time to knit ideas together. In order to produce two blog posts, my mind needed to wander and web. So I negotiated the intersection of productivity and creativity throughout the day, working my way toward my end goal of two blog posts.

Likely at this point you are asking yourself “What does this have to do with working agilely and engaging new and diverse audiences?!?”

Answer: everything.

No one who works in the arts, heritage, and culture sectors is walking around declaring “inclusion?—who needs that!? not my value!” (Or not openly.) Arts, heritage, and culture organizations tend to be ardent supporters of diversity and inclusion. Practitioners and employees want everyone to be able to celebrate and exchange, learn and be transformed from their experiences artistic experiences. However: most don’t have “inclusion” as a core value of their organization, stated alongside, for example “artistic excellence.” This means: “inclusion” will never have an invisible force compelling practitioners and employees to negotiate it with other values. When “inclusion” is an implicit or implied value, one deeply-held-but-never-discussed, it’s a sure bet that it’s not understood or shared in common, and almost never actively worked toward.

While one can’t simply fire up all cylinders and race to a finish line of becoming an inclusive organization from top to bottom, you can begin to prioritize diversity and inclusion focused programs. And definitely get involved with initiatives like the AMA’s Audience Diversity Academy that provide guidance, resources, and structure.

Structure is key. The Academy was designed to focus on exploring “small bites”—questions of diversity, examining organizational culture, creating new metrics for success and different ways of measuring them, tackling a long term, strategic and systemic problem with short term tactical experiments. The Audience Diversity Academy worked on diversity (the representation of people from diverse backgrounds represented throughout) and not inclusion (a mindset and practice—like yoga—of active, intentional, and ongoing engagement of the diversity of an organization, its culture, its programming, in order to create equal access, well being, and a sense of belonging for all.)  Being involved in the Academy provided its Fellows a first step toward defining the value of inclusion with their organizations, but it is only because they prioritized working on diversity. It is a muscle that needs exercise. Overtime, as diversity increases as an internalize priority for everyone, inclusion becomes a necessity.  

Defining, exercising, and building your values—not easy! Makes me think of the Important/Urgent Matrix: you draw an X-Y axis where Y = Important and X = Urgent, resulting in four quadrants: Important and Urgent; Un-important and Urgent; Important and not-Urgent Un-important and not-Urgent.
urgent-important-matrix (1)Handy in many ways, but I’m gonna put a different spin on it here. If we don’t have a value, with its corresponding invisible force, telling us a body of work should be done… that body of work defaults to the bottom of the “Un-important and not-Urgent” quadrant. What would it take to move it and keep in the “Important and Urgent” quadrant? Can you image how united that artful community would be? Anything might be possible.

Show of hands: who would be significantly unsettled, if not be completely terrified, by the idea of handing over your organizational social account to stranger for a day? Login, password, the whole kit and caboodle?

I’m not saying this is you, current hand raiser, but I was reminded that this is still viewed as a highly risky digital-based audience engagement strategy. Why? Because in the end we in the arts are more concerned about maintaining control than we are about engagement.

13698055_10209328921352477_3418008333301346286_oLast week I had the pleasure of running a session (twice) at the Arts Marketing Association U.K. conference I cheekily call “Eff-Up the Pop-Up” (first iteration developed at NAMP). It’s targeted toward arts managers interested in interacting more meaningfully with current audiences and/or audiences “inclined toward coming through the door.”

The session was developed on these assumptions:

  • We get stuck in habits of practice.
  • We don’t approach our work creatively, like artists.
  • We interact with audience as a monolithic whole, not as collection of individuals with different behavior patterns.
  • We adopt audience engagement programs and practices, and deploy them regularly, without analyzing whether they’re right for the artist, artwork(s), types of engagers in our audience, or the impact we want to have.
  • We want to be in control more than we want to engage.

I 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 opportunity; we need to consider how to develop a number of new entry points for different types of engagers to entangle themselves. We can do this by “effing-up” strategies used before, but keeping in mind who we want to engage and the impact we are interested having this time around. But what we can’t do is control the outcome, we can simply create the platform (or platforms).

I gave an example before we moved into the practical “effing-up” section of the workshop. And this is where unconscious prioritizing of “maintaining control” surfaced.

CA4MsXsU8AAYJRa.jpg

My words illustrated by Carolyn Sewell

My example: I gave a 30-min talk for CreativeMornings/DC in February 2015 around the theme “Climate.” My thesis: changing the climate in the room, in a theatre. During my talk I was allowed (after much conversation with the organizers) to engage the attendees in a basic participatory experience. It involved Rock-Paper-Scissors and Thumb Wars, and the Prologue to Romeo & Juliet. (My colleague Wyckham Avery and I have since gone on to refine and use this in multiple workshops–it’s so much fun!) But if we look at this from a work of art framework, this was participation embedded within the performance itself (my talk). Not an activity designed to more intimately entangle the audience with me, CreativeMornings/DC, and theatre.

So I created an engagement program that was an “eff-up” of Twitter take-overs. It was an expression of my interests in integrating audience into performance,  creating performance on social, and changing the climate. I handed over dog & pony dc‘s Twitter account to the 150-ish people and told them it was their’s for the next 24-hours. From my speech notes:

We are inviting you to the task to interrupt a ritual, take a picture, and post it. Invest in make believe, take a picture, and post it. Challenge our followers to do something that involves one of these tasks. The agency is yours. Do with it what you will. We trust you.

Like any live performance, the great CreativeMornings/DC Twitter experiment was ephemeral. You can’t document continual changes to profile and cover pictures and organization description, but this Storify captures some of what occurred.

That was the example I gave at my AMA conference session about how to “eff-up” an audience engagement strategy (Twitter Takeover) that’s also a commonly deployed marketing strategy. (See here. And here.  Two random Google search results.)

Questions from my AMA session attendees arose immediately: How could I do this? Did anything go wrong? What if something bad happens?  Me: Like what? Them: Like someone says something inappropriate? Me: Like someone posts a video [raises middle fingers and fake says string of expletives]?

This is what stops us, right? Fear of something going terribly wrong. And, to a small extent, rightfully so. There’s this story which I read a few weeks before giving my CreativeMornings/DC talk in 2015 full of people posting “innocent” but IMHO foolish statements and pictures on social, and then be severely and continually punished. Or consider the confused reaction on social of Beyoncé fans after Lemonade was released. Poor Rachel Ray was never “Becky with the good hair” but she definitely got a lot of shade thrown her way. However: these are examples of the Twitteratti or fans gone wildly  negative, not examples of arts organizations intentionally and creatively using social to involve digital engagers.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating for anyone to do what dog & pony dc and I did. It was right for me/us on that day.

But engagement is a two-way street. If you aren’t trusting your audience, they aren’t going to trust you. If you aren’t providing agency to most or all of them, seeking to actively engage them how they prefer, then only the few who are already engaging will continue to do so. The rest will never move from their current relationship level with you.

You, like some of the AMA conference attendees, might look at my CreativeMornings/DC Twitter experiment example and say “I could never do that.” Well 1) maybe that’s not the strategy for you; 2) maybe you could in a different format. But don’t make it an end stop, make it a point of departure. An inspiration.

Seth Godin recently wrote about the difference between objections vs. excuses. He suggests that people make objections because there’s something in the way of them saying “yes” and if they can get around it, then s/he can progress. “An objection is an invitation, a request for help in solving a problem. Excuses, on the other hand, are merely fear out loud.”

To Godin’s differentiation I respond: right on! If we are committed to engagement, committed to breaking out of our habits of practice, we have to break our habits of maintaining total control. So object, and then seek a creative solution with others that provides agency to your audience. This is what’s going to move us all forward toward more intimate entanglements between art, artist, and audience.

Because

May 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

WhyB_500x500_squareI’ve been in a major U.S. city the past four days running auditions for a dog & pony dc show produced by another company. The auditions consisted of three 2-hour open-call “workshops.” After the first two audition/workshops I expressed mild concern over the diversity in the pool thus far (three people of color, everyone was able bodied) despite our stress that the roles were only specific in terms of an age range and gender (and even those could be negotiated a bit). I inquired if my dog & pony dc colleague and I could take some action, maybe go through casting files and call in actors of color at an added audition? We would make ourselves available for whatever it would take.

Long story short: the answer was no. The theatre would tap some people in the area to see if they could nudge communities but we would not be engaging in any acts of “discrimination” in the manner I suggested.

In the meantime, back home in our nation’s capitol, dog & pony dc continues to openly wrestle with (among many other topics) diversity and inclusion. And on day four of my stay in the major U.S. city, after the casting was complete, I had a meeting with a subgroup of ensemble members to work on our homework. The question was raised by one of my colleagues, which has been raised by others before at different times explicitly and in not so many words: “What do we want? Why are ‘we’ having these conversations?”

We discussed some answers, revisiting some ground that had been covered and also going deeper with some of us individually.

But the point of all this…

I awoke just after 3:00 this morning having dreamt of fighting collusion and supremacy in two different languages and battling not only with my enemies, but also with my partners and myself.

“Why” are we having these conversations is no longer a useful question as far as I’m concerned. It’s an evasive one. It’s an excuse.

Because Freddie Gray.
Because Trayvon Martin.
Because Carl Dupree.
Because Matthew Shepard.
Because Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six.
Because Catalina Sandino Moreno in Medeas.
Because Daniel Handler at the 2014 National Book Awards.
Because unpaid internships.
Because complicated grant applications.
Because privilege.
Because responsibility.
Because hope.
Because reckless imagining.
Because change and building shit is hard

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, and we sure as hell shouldn’t do it alone.

I don’t “blame” the theatre for not doing more. I “blame” myself for not remembering that I needed to take action months ago with them and without them in order to ensure we had done our thorough due diligence to meet, educate, and welcome. And “we” are having the conversation because “I” am not an independent artist I am an ensemble artist. So I also “blame” the ensemble for not reminding me that we needed to take action months ago with them and without them to meet, educate, and welcome.

I know for sure that we will continue our process of meeting and educating in this major U.S. city, and then, hopefully, allowing the art to ultimately serve as a facilitation for some of these conversations as part of the performance. Because we need to have them.

Prologuetriangulations and tetrahedronizations

Blog schedules be darned! This big eyed fish explored a new bowl and so the editorial staff has done a switcheroo.

Who out there noticed?

/crickets

Ok, maybe this is my way of telling you 1) we plan 2) there’s a “we” 3) this post has a lot going on and it’s possible the dots are not all connected.

Cannonball

#1

This weekend, I was slapped across the face. Literally. In front of my dog & pony dc co-ensemble members and a collection of artistic collaborators. By a man who we invited into our ensemble as part of a training. There are many other details I could share, but let’s open with this simple telling of the story.

#2

Being an ensemble member is hard.

“Team membership” brings with it immense power and responsibility. My guess is many few of us outside of the military and professional/life-practice team athletics truly knows this. In my world we tend to call it “ensemble member” or “ensembleship.” The variation between military or athletics, and ensemble, for us at least, is: the agency we endow individuals within the group; the equity with which we seek to operate and realize; the responsibility we share in manifesting shared vision and values; the trust we place and hold in the collective.

The thing about run-of-the-mill colleagues is that in most situations, they can easily avoid making choices, they can kick-back within hierarchy, they can maintain a narrow focus of impact, and everyone’s actions to superiors are either gestures of obedience, pledges of loyalty, or both.

The thing about run-of-the-mill leaders is that in most situations, they can give and take the semblance of power, they can tip over scales, they can give/ take/ reward/ punish/ spotlight/ ignore behaviors, and everyone else needs to have their trust earned by you.

But in our ensemble at least:

Every member of the company has an impact on the work and processes of every other member.

Membership in the company is a constant exercise in awareness, both of one’s own “orbit” within the company, and awareness of all the others. It requires personal flexibility to balance the work of the whole.

Because:

  • Agency can be taken or ignored.
  • Equity can balance despite variance, or it can remain disturbed and partisan.
  • Responsibility can be embraced or shrugged off.
  • Trust can be given and accepted, or withheld.

Reverse to #1 to launch into #3

So I was slapped across the face. Literally. In front of my co-ensemble members and a collection of collaborating artists. By a man who we invited into our ensemble as part of a company training.

Everyone physically remained in the room. I made a joke shortly afterward; transmitting a coded message to the ensemble (which turned out to be too coded). We processed through the moment, whether to engage in the exercise or not. I told everyone I was totally fine, and not to worry, transmitting another coded message to the ensemble members. (A number of them received it!) For the rest of the afternoon, many of the ensemble members were keenly aware of one another and the other collaborators in the room. Afterward there was informal processing in all sorts of small, private groups. There was some individual processing with me.

What stinks is that as a leader of an ensemble I’m keenly aware of how I must strive to epitomize our values and, sometimes, suck it up and ignore both ensembleship and me. However: I am still 1) an ensemble member and 2) an individual person. These three identities—Ring Leader, dog & pony dc ensemble member, Rachel—are a shifting triangle. When I add to that being female, white, young-ish, small statured, a loud talker, et cetera, the identity intersections I’m navigating at any given moment are mindboggling.

(What’s even more !KA-POW! is: everyone else is also navigating their own identity intersections. But, I’ve digressed. The point is…)

Back in company training this weekend, after the slap, I wasn’t fine. I’m not fine now. All the “processing” I engaged in didn’t take away the fact that I was slapped across the face in front of my co-ensemble members, because my leader-ensemble member-individual triangle held tight with “leader” at the apex for 36-hours. Should it have? Should I have re-triangulated within the group because ensemble? (aka “trust in the system”) Should the ensemble have recalibrated in such a way that encouraged or even forced that to occur? What does “leadership” actually mean within ensemble?

And so…

My initial simple telling of the story was inadequate. It was a moment bursting with complications that continue to spill out and spread across the floor. This writing is a necessary step in my clean up process. I’ve returned safe and sound to my bowl, and now am attempting to discern what I learned. And so, I leave these questions with you

What roles do agency, equity, responsibility, and trust play in your communities?

How can we all lead and follow by example?

How do you negotiate triangulating within a tetrahedron?