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The Many Hats of the 21st Century Arts Marketer: There is a Solution

Do you remember the children’s book Caps for Sale? It’s the one about a clever hat peddler who carries his wares stacked high on his head—sometimes as many as 15 or more caps at a time. Predictably, shenanigans ensue. Well, even if you’ve never read this particular children’s literature classic, if you’re working at a small- to medium-sized arts organization, you can probably empathize with the challenges of wearing many hats at once. It’s what so many of us do, right? Maybe you started out in box office sales, but as soon as someone realized you were the least bit tech savvy, you suddenly became the go-to guru for updating the entire website. Or maybe you’re an army of one with the title of “executive director” but the responsibilities of an office manager, communications director, web maven and more. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d be hard pressed to think of many individuals I know who oversee marketing for their arts group who actually went to school for marketing. More and more, especially with the increasing democratization/usability of various SaaS platforms and social networking options, marketing—especially arts marketing—seems like a specialty one kind of grows into rather than formally chooses as a college sophomore in their advisor’s office. Sure, there are some fabulous exceptions out there (e.g. a big shout out to Brea Heidelberg, an arts management consultant I met this week who’s a Philadelphia-based rising star in Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders Network!), but for the rest of us, we’re learning as we go.

Through my role at the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, I (and my colleagues) work to devise programs and offerings to help arts and cultural organizations weather and triumph over the many challenges they face in their day-to-day operations. And so, it’s realizations about trends in our field like multiple hat syndrome that helped inspire the creation of a new program we’re working on, in partnership with the National Arts Marketing Project, called Arts Marketing and Audience Engagement in the 21st Century: Building Capacity of Pennsylvania’s Cultural Sector. Using The Expert’s Guide to Marketing the Arts, Third Edition as the foundation to the curriculum, the program aims to support, strengthen and advance the arts marketing and audience engagement skills of arts and cultural organizations.

The two-year program structure is unique in terms of who we’re looking to reach. Ideally, there will be 25 two-person teams, each of which will feature an individual responsible for marketing and one person we’re loosely terming a decision maker (i.e. an executive director, board chair, etc.). 

How many times have you gone to a conference, come back reinvigorated and with a head full of learnings to employ, only to either hit a wall in terms of top level support/understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, or simply get sucked back into the day-to-day fire-fighting that keeps so many of us from implementing deep and impactful marketing tactics? Or, on the other hand, how often as a decision-maker do you see your awesome marketing specialist hired away in the blink of an eye? This two-person team design aims to combat that by ensuring that participating organizations will receive true and lasting buy-in from the top down, as well as a deep, long-term opportunity to address issues specific to their respective organizations. We’re hoping to spur numerous outcomes—both primary and secondary—through this program, including general skill building, the sharing of best practices between similar organizations, and general, increased sustainability. It’s an ambitious lift, but we’re confident that the program has the potential to provoke great and positive impacts among participating organizations.

To begin rolling out information about the initiative, I had the opportunity to hit the road with Americans for the Arts’ Director of Local Arts Services, Ruby Lopez Harper. We road tripped across southeastern Pennsylvania, hitting such hotspots as Bethlehem’s ArtsQuest, a very cool example of adaptive reuse housed in a former steel mill; the gorgeous and eclectic National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia; and the elegant Ware Center in the heart of downtown Lancaster. The workshops gave us the invaluable opportunity to collect feedback, answer questions, gauge interest and assess the program structure through the lens of potential participants.

The application and nomination form opened online on March 7, as well as full program guidelines. They are now available on the new NAMP website. Need application help? We put together a free webinar to walk you through the process—watch it on ArtsU. Still have questions? Send an email to NAMP’s Laura Kakolewski, or call 212.223.2787 x 1117.

Even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, we’re curious to see what you think. Is this the kind of information your organization needs? Have you encountered similar training opportunities in your state? We’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, I’m going to sit at my desk quietly going through Ruby withdrawal and tempering my excitement for when this program officially kicks off in July 2017..

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