Art Scars

Recently, violinist Holly Mulcahy published an article at Neo Classical that takes an unfiltered look at the problems with the type of one-way patron communication that dominates the orchestra field.

Mulcahy wants to reverse that process by changing how we communicate with our patrons.

In the orchestra field we don’t do a fantastic job of creating or encouraging a dialog between patrons and the orchestra. Our focus is mainly on delivering. We deliver talks and lectures, program notes, concerts, and then we ask for money.

Adaptistration People 134In addition to missing out on valuable feedback, this approach inflicts art scars among patrons.

Arts scars is a term coined by Brene Brown and it focuses on when an authority figure begins comparing creativity between individuals. According to Brown, this triggers shame and vulnerability, all of which produces multiple layers of art scars.

Orchestras have been remarkably effective at inflicting arts scars among ticket buyers for 50+ years. It’s gone on for so long across so many generations that we don’t even realize it happens.

And when we do interact with patrons, it often takes the form of manipulating opinions.

I have seen it time and time again a patron who will say an orchestral work reminds them of XYZ and an expert will correct them to say, “Actually…the piece was written about ABC.” This is not listening, this is explaining. Some people like to be told what to think, but art shouldn’t always have concrete answers.

It’s no wonder that people might not feel welcome to let their minds or imaginations go into a creative space while experiencing music or art. Instead, people are instructed how to properly enjoy something. While that can be interesting and helpful to enjoy a performance, it’s time that artistic organizations encourage emotional and creative freedom as well.

Mulcahy goes on to highlight her work inside the prison system where she and her colleagues work to actively encourage two-way communication initiated and led by the prisoners.

The most striking thing I’ve experience when taking music into Walker State Faith and Character Based Prison is the very direct two-way conversation. After each piece is performed, a direct talkback about that work is opened up. The composers and musicians I bring in for these recitals are encouraged to put aside their instincts to explain the music and listen to the impressions from the prisoners first…I mention to the prisoners there are no wrong answers and every opinion matter. They share freely what they felt or heard without any shame or concern that their impressions might be “wrong.” They also mention in their surveys that they find it interesting to listen to others’ opinions as they are similar to theirs, or different enough that it gave a point of view they will now consider.

When was the last time your organization created a space that refrained from the traditional coercive/correction approach and really listened to them?

Do yourself a favor and set aside some time to read Mulcahy’s full article.

We Expect Your Attention, But Don’t Expect Ours

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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