Getting to Market: Part 1 Artists
Creative placemaking intentionally levers the power of arts, culture and creativity to serve a community’s interest while driving a broader agenda for growth and transformation. A well-founded strategic approach to placemaking must have at its center the principle that placemaking efforts will foster a climate in which artists and arts organizations thrive and shine. This is not a given; it is a crucial and conscious choice and the success of your endeavor will depend on it.
During my time helping communities develop cohesive approaches to supporting their creatives, I’ve developed some simple tools that you might find effective. They center on ways to build natural audiences. The natural audience for an artist, a program or a piece of work is that set of people who have a genuine interest in and attraction to its content. Discovering who these people are and what draws them to the work allows placemakers to fashion branding and marketing programs that hit squarely on the mark.
Artist inventory: If you haven’t recently conducted an inventory of the artists living and working in your community, do one. This is as appropriate for a cultural organization as it is for an arts council or municipality. Don’t let the size of your community put you off. A first pass will be easy – existing artist based organizations, artist networks, informal clusters or meetings and so on. Then go deeper, use a snowball approach, and ask artists to share their connections. Ask about their medium too – a large cluster of designers or ceramic artists that you were unaware of might influence the design of programs down the road. The inventory is a living document – update it regularly.
Dialogue: Invite artists to talk to you – have as many conversations as it takes to educate yourself about their concerns in relation to finding an audience for their work. Set your assumptions aside and meet them where they are. Focus the dialogue on audience rather than on capacity issues. When you work hard to define and discover the artist’s or programs natural audience you are far more likely to draw enthusiastic paying supporters for the work. Capacity issues can be covered through basic business training if needed and there are a number of excellent models out there to copy and adapt.
Shape programs around your constituency: Based on your inventory findings and the dialogues with artists, design programs or initiatives that focus on drawing a natural audience. This is different from a top down approach that presumes what will work for artists without asking them. A more inclusive approach will produce better and more enduring results for all. Before you launch whatever it is you are planning, ask for feedback. Once you have input, rejigger the program if necessary so that the artists you are serving are highly comfortable with your concept and that the program will meet their artistic and economic needs.
Two practitioners that have influenced my thinking recently:
Marc Zegans “Intentional Practice and the Art of Finding Natural Audiences: A Framework for Artists and Professionals” discusses ways to find and communicate with a natural audience in accord with an artist’s vision, and build a client base in a manner that affirms and deepens their professional integrity. (Available through Amazon.com)
Jon Hawkes ‘The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability: culture’s essential role in public planning’ (Common Ground, 01) is a perennial. Jon is one of Australia’s leading commentators on cultural policy.
This article is the first in a two-part series.