Audience engagement. Such a buzzphrase in the arts these days. The subject of the National Arts Marketing Project Conference, held in Salt Lake City November 6th through 9th.A conference full of useful suggestions, hopeful case studies. Success stories! In which arts organizations learned to engage their audience.
A week or so earlier, Matt Lehrman — a terrific "Audience and Customer Experience (ACX) expert" (as he describes himself) — and fellow ArtsJournal blogger — asked me about audience engagement. Did I have thoughts about it that I'd like to post on his blog? He was asking several people.
I was happy to oblige. But my thought was that I wish we wouldn't use those words. Audience engagement — such an abstraction! While a truly engaged audience is anything but. It's people lined up to get into a museum, or screaming with delight after a performance. (Or plunged into rapt silence.)
It's people buying arts merchandise. Talking up the arts in their communities. So easy to describe and define!
So why do we make such a fuss about it? Read what I posted on Matt's blog. When I worked in pop music, I said, "audience engagement" was a phrase nobody used. Why not? Because they had an engaged audience, one they could count on, day in and day out.
When we use the phrase, we're confessing a lack. Confessing that our audinece isn't engaged. Or that we don't have an audience. Or not enough of one.
And that to fix this, we think in abstractions. No matter what concrete steps we might take. We're still thinking of the problem in a way divorced from the real world — a world in which people are spontaneously engaged by art, and flock to take part in it.
All this will be clearer if you read what I wrote for Matt. Unfair of me to reprint it all here, and deprive him of readers!
Original Content: Words that worry me