Making the Case: Effective Messaging for the Arts

Posted by Ms. Margy Waller, Mar 08, 2010 1 comment

We've noticed a lot of chatter about finding a new way to talk about what we're passionate about. We all want a value proposition that works to create support for the arts.

We followed the long exchange on the artsjournal pages and noticed that Michael Kaiser put it on his wish list for the holidays. And of course, this conversation is designed to answer the question:  how do we make the case for supporting the arts in 2010? What is the message that works with private sector supporters?

We understand this interest—and we share it. My blogs this week will offer a research-based answer.

Many of us have spent years searching for the strongest possible message and the best case on which to build support for the arts. Yet, the messages we have used, and successfully integrated in the dialogue across the country, have not yielded the broad sense of shared responsibility that we seek.

So, in late 2008, leaders of the Fine Arts Fund in Cincinnati embarked on a year-long research initiative designed to develop an inclusive community dialogue leading to broadly shared public responsibility for arts and culture.

We concluded that our work with the community through arts and culture must be based on a foundation that incorporates a deeper understanding of the best way to start the conversation in order to achieve that shared sense of responsibility.

People are always telling us that they like the arts. And we know they mean it. For "insiders" (everyone reading this blog, for sure!), participating, donating, and going to shows is what we do all the time.

Most everyone else sees the arts differently—and that's critical for us to remember. Others have nothing against art—but we haven't given them the lens through which to see arts & culture as a benefit to the entire community, even those who don’t participate.

Right now the public is most likely to see art strictly as entertainment: what to do this weekend, etc. And that's great—when we are trying to build audiences, sell tickets and memberships.

But when we want people to donate to our united fund, support a better arts policy, or communicate with decision makers, not many are taking an action step. That’s because when art is entertainment, supporting it is a highly personal decision—based on personal preferences and resources like time and money.

We determined that we needed more analysis and knowledge of public views and assumptions about arts and culture to develop the foundation for a conversation that leads to the necessary increased shared responsibility and public support.

Our conversation has to engage participants as residents of the community, not as consumers. Because while most people feel positively toward the arts, we will have to change the conversation in order to motivate action by the public (by which I mean the private sector too) for the arts.

In my next blogs, I'll share 1) the key organizing idea to communicate with the goal of building broadly shared responsibility for the arts, and 2) discuss the need for an echo chamber across the country.

The private sector has a leading role to play in creating the echo chamber and it's our job to provide the communications strategy, the message that we can all use.

1 responses for Making the Case: Effective Messaging for the Arts


Joseph Futral says
March 09, 2010 at 10:51 am

"public views and assumptions about arts and culture" and "Most everyone else sees the arts differently"

This is more key than we may be willing to acknowledge. The problem here is that the idea of "supporting the arts" is too abstract. This position is too open to anyone's perceptions and presuppositions of what "the arts" are. Kind of like "investing in the stock market". In reality, no one actually invests in the "stock market". People invest in _particular_ stocks or companies. To avoid political rabbit trails I won't go further than to mention similarities in current discussions of health care/coverage. While no one really thinks people should be without health care, there are very few agreements as to what the actual problems and solutions are and particularly whether their own coverage should be affected.

This will not make for an efficient approach, no single set of matrices or argument that we can apply universally. And it gets even more difficult the more removed people are from "the arts" as fewer and fewer people have first hand experiences with any art form.

The good news, as far as I can tell, is that art is intrinsic enough to our being that connections can still be made. We just have to be willing to be the creative thinkers we claim to be.


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