I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at last Saturday’s TEDx Michigan Ave event. There was a wide variety of talks and an equally wide assortment of those in attendance. It’s always fascinating to cross pollinate with other sectors inside the wider arts field and the focus of each talk combined with the field concentration of each speaker, produced a great event…
Although all of the presentations were engaging, I found a particular connection with segments from Seth Boustead, Gwydion Suilebhan, David Loehr, Adam Thurman, and Eric Ziegenhagen and I wanted to post a few quick observations from each of their presentations.
But first, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that on top of the presentations was an equally engaging online discussion (kicked off by @mlaffs) going on by a dozen or so in the audience who were carrying on a twitter conversation via the #TEDxMiAv.
It was an entertaining juxtaposition to experience presentations about audience engagement from several presenters only to see a number of those in attendance deeply engaged in a complementary discussion via #TEDxMiAv. At first glance, it looked like a bunch of people who weren’t paying attention but in reality, they were hyper focused on multitasking their listening/watching skills alongside their remote engagement activity (which is a five dollar phrase for tweeting).
It was particularly refreshing to hear Seth’s journey with Accessible Contemporary Music and its period of expansion following the economic downturn. It made me recall Rocco Landesman’s unfounded universal declaration from February, 2011 about too many new arts groups: “There are too many theaters,” [Landesman] said. “Look,” he explained. “You can either increase demand or decrease supply. Demand is not going to increase. So it is time to think about decreasing supply.”
Seth adequately demonstrated that creating demand, or perhaps it is better to say identifying and converting untapped demand, is something the arts can do just as well as other sectors.
The particular component of Gwydion’s talk that jumped out at me is the need for arts groups to make concerted efforts to break down the barriers between the institution and audience, especially in the area of making sense of the social media mishmash. Taking the time to monitor and respond to the online chatter is a seemingly small but crucial step toward demonstrating a sincere interest in community interaction.
I especially enjoyed the following comment: “We’re living at a time where the public is looking to trust institutions but they want to connect with ones that help them express themselves.”
Toward the end of David’s talk, he emphasized the need for arts groups to “never be dark,” which is a reference to using your venue space as much as possible. He provided some specific examples behind the dynamic positive benefits of this, regardless of potential strain, and it was a fascinating counterpoint to the “too much product” argument we hear far too often throughout the orchestra field.
A great discussion about the differences between hard power and soft power as it related to how arts orgs deliver their messages. There was a great bit about how hard power is comprised of how the arts have no trouble coming up with reasons why it matters so long as the public is just willing to accept us. But moving to a soft power approach, bending people toward our positions by attraction over force, is a direction the field needs to explore.
Eric made a point that connected with Gwydion from earlier in the day that arts orgs seem to have a sense that they aren’t obligated to respond to social media but that needs to change. He concluded by tossing out an idea I wish he took more time to explore which is adopting a membership model over subscriptions in such a way that transitions away from the donor ATM model.
Special thanks goes out to the event organizer David Zoltan, he had a wonderful vision for what TEDx Michigan Ave should accomplish and I hope it is just the first step toward additional events. Likewise, special thanks to Evelyn Way, from Pindrop Acoustics, who was in charge of making sure all of the presentation slides were working. For whatever reason, I completely forgot to take the projector remote from her at the beginning of my talk and didn’t realize it until moment before the first planned slide change but she was on the ball and ready for a discreet glance to catch each transition. It came off looking like it was perfectly rehearsed.
It was wonderful to see some regular Adaptistration friends at the event including Eric Stassen and Lee Streby, the latter of which filled in on live blogging duties while I was giving my talk. Speaking of the live blogging, you can read a full transcript below. I’ll post info about videos once it is available.
Sorry, the live blogging service is no longer available and does archive entries.