By Sara R. Leonard, Sara Leonard Consulting; Photo credit King’s Things Photography
At last. 2020 is over. And if my highly unscientific survey of friends’ and colleagues’ Facebook sentiments is an indication, there were high hopes that the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2021 would bring relief to us and to our arts organizations. But, alas, the early days of the new year have made plain that we are still in the thick of a public health crisis, and our national zeitgeist is on something of a roller coaster. As all around us shifts and changes again and again, the demands on arts organizations and the marketers who support them are many. But crisis has a way of necessitating and making a path for change, and as arts marketers, this is where both our challenge and our opportunity lies.
I probably don’t need to apprise you much about challenges for arts organizations when the ground beneath us is shifting, often in ways we cannot control and frequently in ways that require us to respond rapidly and adeptly. But, amidst crisis, opportunity can be harder to see, though it nonetheless abounds. Hear me out.
What I see a fair amount right now is a desire among arts leaders to cling to the hope that the new year itself will catalyze a new trajectory for our organizations – one that goes in a straight line from here to “normalcy,” where normalcy is a happy place where we can go back to doing things the way we’re used to. But here’s the problem: it won’t work. We cannot hold our breath until “all this” passes and then exhale and expect what we used to do to work for audiences we used to have. We do not emerge from these crises and chronic injustices the way we came in. Audiences and communities have changed and evolved, and will continue to, and so must we.
So, here is our big chance. Because change is seen as requisite in moments such as this, we may well find that we have buy-in we would not have previously expected when attempting to change our organizations and practices for the better. Our opportunity in 2021 is to become or remain nimble, engaged, connected, and observant on an organization-wide level; it is to adapt thoughtfully but quickly to rapid change by digging into our shared interests and values. Our opportunity is to create deep connection with our current and prospective audiences as we and they evolve together. It may sound exhausting, but I believe it’s also the most exciting prospect our field has seen in a long time. And here’s the best news: cultivating the practices and mindset that will allow us to remain agile, embrace change, and build relationships in these moments will equip us to emerge from this time of crisis more meaningfully engaged with the audiences that will sustain us into the future. The opportunity is here to make significant change for the better. Don’t let it pass you by.
Meet our guest blogger: Sara Leonard is an arts management consultant, researcher, and educator specializing in audience development, strategic planning, and leadership & team building.
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