Alex Ross Is Absolutely Right

The 2/3/2010 edition of the New Yorker published a piece by Alex Ross that examines attendance trends throughout the nonprofit performing arts. Unlike most of the shoulder shrugging set in this field, Ross decides to look at the issues in practical terms and concludes that in order to begin attracting members from Generation X to replace those from previous generations, it will take far more direct contact and one-on-one efforts. I couldn’t agree more…

Nothing beats a direct conenction.

In fact, this very notion is at the heart of the Take A Friend To The Orchestra (TAFTO) programs that have been taking place here since 2005. In fact, Alex Ross took part in that inaugural effort with this brilliant contribution. As Ross points out in his New Yorker piece, there comes a point when people reach a time when they notice “friends who had previously paid little heed to classical music have begun to show interest.”

Previous generations had the benefit of improved likelihood to encounter someone capable of cultivating that interest but for a host of reasons, a number of those variables aren’t as prominent. As a result, the arts are trying to figure out how to push back against a crisis of audience erosion. In any good crisis, those who survive take control of what they can control and for our field that means rolling up our sleeves and taking advantage of direct connections.

Fortunately, we have some valuable tools at our disposal for this task in the form of traditional face-to-face interaction as well as social media platforms that previous generations never enjoyed. When applied effectively, organizations can help prepare their current ticket buying supporters by giving them the tools and encouragement to capitalize on those times when they notice friends’ interest.

Ross has inspired me to go the extra mile and make the TATFO material more accessible and easier for classical music organizations and their stakeholders to take advantage of. Although there has always been a TAFTO index page, I’m setting up a dedicated TAFTO microsite to help build long-term momentum for what Ross is espousing.

Design work started last week but the site likely won’t be ready for another week or two. I can say with all certainty that access as well as content use and distribution will remain completely free under a creative commons license but In the meantime, I’d love to hear ideas from readers about how I can make the site the best it can be.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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