Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Creative Vitality in Philadelphia - Telling the Story: World Cafe Live and WXPN

As many of my readers will know, yesterday we released a new study "Creative Vitality in Philadelphia," that looks at the health of our creative sector - for-profit creative businesses, nonprofit arts and culture groups, and individual artists and creative workers.  This research uses something called the Creative Vitality Index, or CVI, that has been developed by a group called the Western States Arts Federation. Because the data is national, aggregating an array of different sources of information, it provides a great vehicle for measuring our creative sector's vitality over time, and also to benchmark ourselves against the nation and other communities. You can access a PDF of the full report here.

The big "take-away" number from the report is that Philadelphia's CVI rating is 1.7, a full 70% higher than the national benchmark of 1.0. The region performs somewhat more modestly - at 1.1 ranking the region 16th out of the top 50 metro areas, though in terms of growth the Philly region has the fifth highest growth rate of the three years covered in the study (06-08). The CVI rating of our nonprofit arts activity is an astounding 500% higher than the national benchmark.

But an important part of the report is also a collection of case studies - the stories of the artists and businesses that make our creative sector sing. And that is a perfect segue to a teaser I would like to share from one of the case studies. This is the story of the brilliant partnership between World Cafe Live and WXPN - in effect the perfect exemplification of the creative economy intersection of for-profit creative business, nonprofit arts and individual artists.

In 1998, when music lover and former real estate lawyer Hal Real first approached WXPN/88.5 FM about joining forces and creating a live music venue, he was hoping to fulfill his dream to “radically change the landscape for contemporary music artists and audiences.” Real was a big fan of David Dye’s widely acclaimed World Cafe show, an eclectic blend of new music, live performances and interviews featuring local and national acts that is broadcast on XPN and heard on 200 stations nationwide. His idea was to create World Cafe Live, a for-profit music venue for grownups that was the physical extension of the experience World Cafe listeners had in their living rooms. At that time, WXPN, which is University of Pennsylvania owned and operated and had been broadcasting since the 1970s from a closet-like studio papered with vinyl records for soundproofing inside a run-down house on Penn’s campus (its support staff worked in another building several blocks away), had outgrown its space and was in need of a new home...

To read the rest of the World Cafe Live/WXPN profile go here. And as a reminder, you can download the full Philly CVI report here. In addition, we invite you to share your own creative industry story at our special website, where you can also sign up to attend a Creative Vitality town hall on January 27th, as well as to stay connected with us through Facebook and Twitter. We'll be selecting and sharing some of the profiles we receive in future reports, as well as online, so don't miss this opportunity to show off the amazing creative work you or your organization does everyday. (Only one submission per business/organization/artist, please.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who are the Millennials, why do we need them, and how do we engage them?

Patricia Martin, a really sharp writer and consultant who follows consumer trends, marketing and sponsorship, and has a special interest in arts and culture, has just come out with a new study called Tipping the Culture: How engaging Millennials will change things. It is actually available as a free download by clicking on the link above.

The study was commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of its support for Nonprofit Finance Fund's "Leading for the Future Initiative." 

Better understanding this new generational cohort (defined in this report as being between 15 and 31 years old) - now entering our workforce, our audiences, and our customer base, and in HUGE numbers that dwarf the size of the older Gen X group - is critical to the future of our arts organizations. The study takes a close and revealing look at this generation, helping us develop effective strategies to engage them. Notice I did NOT say "market to them" because if there is one thing this generations hates it is being "marketed to." The study also looks at examples from the corporate sector of firms that have successfully been able to build sales and brands that resonate with this generation. Some examples from the arts sector are included too, including a bit of Philly inclusion.

Here are some of the big take-aways for me:

  • Reaching and engaging Millennials is critical, yet "for a performing arts presenter, it is especially vexing because the very conventions of the experience you offer can conflict with [their] mind-set." What this means is that most performing arts experiences basically require audience to arrive at a set time, sit in a seat and engage in an essentially passive cultural experience. Clapping only at appropriate times. 
  • Even given the resistance of Millennials to these passive cultural experiences - they prefer to CREATE or self-curate their cultural experiences - the research DOES find that under the right circumstances Millennials WILL "abide by the rituals associated with live performance...many do not expect  or want to text or tweet. And if the situation calls for it, they'll dress up a bit for the experience. They study proposes three key insights:
  • The brand is no longer at the center of the universe, the user is. To succeed in reaching Millennnials, you essentially have to turn your brand over to them. They need to own it and shape it. This is really exciting, and also really scary for marketers used to obsessively controlling the integrity of their brand.
  • Have something meaningful to say. Millennials are moved by REAL content. They want authentic experiences. Artificiality and phoniness turns them off.
  • Help them belong to the brand. We need to provide vehicles that give them the capacity to belong to the brand and share it - providing comments and review on the web site, sharing photos of the experiences, facilitating social interactions through the arts experiencing, posting videos, etc.
  • And finally (and related to the above) they respond really powerfully to opportunities to actually be a part of creating the content; they want to actively participate. The roll-out of the Ford Fiesta is cited as one example, which was done almost entirely through blogging and other viral marketing techniques targeting Millennials - engaging Millennials.
This is just a little taste - download and read the entire report yourself. For those that have been following this issue, this study may not be new news, but it reinforces many key phenomena. It also provides some great insights into how some corporations and nonprofit arts groups have been finding strategies that work. Some of the Philly examples cited? Bartram's Garden and its work with the artist Mark Dion that through blogging allowed the audience to follow the creative process of a work coming together. New Paradise Laboratories and director Whit MacLaughlin's production of Fatebook which took place in part online and involved significant interactive social media.

The thing that is uniquely challenging about this issue is that to engage Millennials is not a question of "spin" - of choosing the right lists, designing the brochure the right way, pitching stories to the right media. It is in fact about changing the user experience, changing the relationship to the "customer", and - yes - even about changing the art itself. That can be scary, but putting your head in the sand and doing things the same old way seems a formula for slow steady demise.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Presidential Re-Quote - President Obama: "The arts are a necessary part of our lives"

This was posted on the blog The Playgoer, December 7, 2010 and was included today in Tom Cott's useful "You've Cott Mail" e-newsletter (archive of past e-mails is here, where you can also click a link to sign up). Couldn't resist sharing!

Being here with tonight's honorees, reflecting on their contributions, I'm reminded of a Supreme Court opinion by the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.  In a case argued before the Court in 1926, the majority ruled that the state of New York couldn't regulate the price of theater tickets, because, in the opinion of the majority, the theater was not a public necessity.  They argued, in effect, that the experience of attending the theater was superfluous.  And this is what Justice Holmes had to say: 'To many people the superfluous is necessary.'  The theater is necessary. Dance is necessary. Song is necessary. The arts are necessary -- they are a necessary part of our lives.

-President Barack Obama, saluting this year's Kennedy Center Honorees.