Takeaways from the National Arts Marketing Conference

Last fall I spent three days in Salt Lake City at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference, which attracts arts marketing professionals of all backgrounds, from small organizations like ours — where just one or two staff members handle everything from programming to fundraising to marketing — to large, well-known theaters and museums, local and regional arts councils, plus artists of all stripes on their own.

The Arts Alliance doesn’t have much of a budget for professional development for its employees, but in this case, that didn’t really matter. Americans for the Arts, the organization that puts on this conference (and does incredible work on arts advocacy, communication and much more throughout the year) makes it a priority to offer scholarships, including some full rides, to arts professionals that need them. I submitted an application, just in case I qualified for a full ride – and I was chosen! This particular scholarship was given for individuals who work with underserved populations, including the rural, isolated communities that we represent throughout northern New Hampshire.

Since my return I’ve continued to think about all I learned there, and before I leave (I’m stepping down on May 27th), I wanted to reflect back on my experience. Here’s what I came up with as three major takeaways from the conference.

First: the importance of finding your authenticity. This was a prominent theme, beginning with Jad Abumrad’s brilliant opening keynote and continuing in smaller sessions on branding, audience engagement and marketing. Having an authentic voice is what makes people trust you, is what makes your emails and your promotional materials compelling, and it is also what tells you if a program is right for your mission. It informs your website and makes your social media interactions feel genuine and real. I think it is especially beneficial for a diverse organization like the Arts Alliance, with many branches of programming and many members to represent, to distill its authenticity, whether from the existing mission statement or through future work, and use that as the benchmark moving forward. It’s equally important for all of our member organizations and really any community organization. And for me as an individual, my work as an arts leader and maker should always come from my own genuine, honest self.

My second takeaway: the importance of taking calculated risks. When we are caught up in the day to day responsibilities of our work – and there are a lot of them! — it can be hard to do this.

Just staying one step ahead is a challenge, but building in the time to not only research options, but to actually take risks is really important. I can especially see this in my email campaigns -rather than doing the same old thing, why not build in riskier new ways of promoting? Some will work, some won’t, but we should make space for experimenting, and then follow it up with tracking. The same is true for programming risks. We need acknowledge that some of our programs are risks –  and we need to accommodate that fact in our planning, perhaps pricing higher to cover ourselves when we don’t break even. This approach can strengthen programming for the long term and give us room to try new things that might not lead directly to success. It’s hard for me to think of an artist or arts organization that this message wouldn’t apply to!

My final takeaway is a bit broader: it’s about the importance of putting the audience, and audience engagement, at the center of everything we do. I was very familiar with Audience Engagement as a topic, and in my theater work it was always on my mind. But I hadn’t realized that an entire organization or major project could be driven from this perspective, even in more complex nonprofits with disparate audiences. As I sat in on sessions on this subject, I realized how it connects to our efforts to broaden our audience base, focus on inclusion, and demystify the arts we’re presenting. All of these efforts are related. Being audience-centric doesn’t mean dumbing down programming. It means making sure we are genuinely reaching out to and connecting with people. And if we can use this concept to frame all our thinking, it clarifies our mission and the purpose of all our work: the point of supporting, promoting and sustaining arts programming in a region is to build, hold and communicate with the current – and potential – audience in that region.

So there you have it – authenticity, calculated risks and audience engagement. How do you think these concepts relate to you, whether in your work for an organization or as an individual artist? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And if you’d like more details from my notes on branding, marketing on a small budget, surveying and more, let me know about your interests and I’ll be glad to share my notes on specific topics.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll share your thoughts!

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Arts in the Schools Month, Or, A Crazy and Awesome Time For Arts in Northern NH

March is Music in the Schools/Arts in Education/Youth Arts month – and what an incredible month it’s been! The Arts Alliance (and I) have been extremely busy – and so have our schools! Here are some of the wonderful projects I’ve gotten to be a part of this month.

  • Arts in Early Learning: Where the Wild Things Are – What an incredible conference this is to be a part of! After two great sessions last fall, we continued our work through our contract with the Kennedy Center, with events in Berlin and Derry. Educators gave high praise for the experience, and we were as always thrilled to work with passionate, dedicated early learning educators who seek new ways to bring the arts (and through them, effective teaching) into their classrooms. Thanks so much to everyone who joined us! Watch for more of our VSA/Kennedy Center programs this spring.
  • Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem – This residency was an absolute delight, from start to finish. Rani, Andrew, Anand and Scott were a joy to work with in addition to being some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen. There is something about their energy and their voices that is incredibly accessible. (And I even got to jam with them – how cool!) They enchanted preschoolers and elders equally. Baby boomers and high-school students equally (but differently!) sang their praise. I’m so thankful I got to be a part of this! The two things I would have liked improved? No snow day on Thursday (the Littleton kids lost their assemblies and we had to cancel a workshop!) and while we had solid attendance at the concerts, I sure wish we’d packed the venues to capacity (maybe next time)! What a gem of a group.
  • Write Now! Conference – Looking forward to attending my first one this weekend – if the weather cooperates, we’ll have 300 teachers from across New England and Canada at the conference!
  • Inkas Wasi – We’re capping off the month with a residency with Inkas Wasi, a group of six South American musicians and dancers who perform the music of the Incas in native costume and with traditional instruments. We’ve got music & dance workshops (for teachers, community members and students) all over the region, with two public concerts — one on Thursday (in Intervale) and one on Friday (in Bethlehem). Join us for a rare glimpse of the music of the Andes in northern New Hampshire!

So, I guess that makes it obvious why I haven’t been posting blog entries as frequently as I should! Thanks for your patience, and for reading. Hope to see you at an Arts Alliance event soon!

Rani and the band performed at the Morrison House for an appreciative audience!

Rani and the band performed at the Morrison House for an appreciative audience!

Yankees, Wild Things, And a Hearty Coos Welcome

It’s been a really great week at the Arts Alliance. I’ve now officially been here a month – how time flies and all that. It really does! Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the first of this year’s Arts in Early Learning Conferences (the next one is tomorrow in Plymouth), and with a theme of Where the Wild Things Are, I knew it would be interesting.IMG_0262 

But it was more than that – Deborah Stuart is a phenomenal asset to this region, sharing fifty years worth of knowledge gleaned on educating through the arts, inclusive learning – not to mention a treasure-trove of folk songs. Even more importantly, her ability to unpack an experience so that participants can learn from and really understand is an incredible asset, especially in a workshop setting like this. I can imagine her applying it with all sorts of groups, adults and children alike. I can’t recommend her work more.

On the opposite end of the spectrum (not to mention the opposite part of the state – from Amherst, NH way up to Shelburne, NH) was the Coos County Business Expo on Wednesday. As an added benefit to our members, we did a last minute email campaign soliciting materials and donations for the Arts Alliance table at the Expo.

We displayed our members’ artwork, programming, and upcoming events, and we even had a raffle where we gave away tickets to upcoming shows and concerts! It was very popular and served its purpose – to show the abundance of arts in northern NH, particularly of the organizations who are our members.IMG_0323

In addition to spreading the word about the Arts Alliance and our members, I met a variety of professionals working in business, culture and tourism. I was also pleasantly surprised to meet many younger folks like myself working in the North Country. I’m really looking forward to continuing to meet our community members, while also following up with those people I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting.

I also have to mention Jamie Trowbridge of Yankee Magazine. He gave an inspiring keynote, and I actually learned a lot about the magazine’s history too! It’s never easy giving a talk while everyone is eating, but I really enjoyed his presentation. Probably the biggest takeaway for me was his emphasis on doing what you do well, but not needing to do everything. It’s okay to find your niche and let the rest go – and in fact, it’s key to survival, and it might evolve over time.

Driving through the snow and the sun to and from the Expo, I was so happy to realize I get to work and live up here! What an absolutely gorgeous part of the state and the world we are blessed to be in.

I have a lot to look forward to next week – Environmental Literacy, an Arts Learning Network Meet Up and Free Integrated Arts Workshop for those of you in the Franconia area, and more. I hope you’ll share what you’re looking forward to as well. Thanks for stopping by!

New Beginnings – A Creative Intro to the Arts Alliance of Northern NH

Photo courtesy of Sarah Haskell

Photo courtesy of Sarah Haskell

What a whirlwind of a beginning this has been!

For those of you that haven’t met me yet, I’m Jamie Feinberg, new Program Manager for the Arts Alliance of Northern NH. I’m a musician, theater practitioner (most notably I founded Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater in 2010) and lover of the arts and New Hampshire in general. I also have a background in office and arts administration, and I’m especially interested in how we can use the arts to enhance teaching and strengthen our communities.

This past weekend I had what was probably one of the coolest, most invigorating experiences I’ve ever had – I attended the Arts in Education – Exploring Creativity conference in Freedom, NH. If you’ve never been, it’s two days jam-packed with keynote speakers and workshops covering a variety of subjects that affect teachers, teaching artists, administrators, and anyone working to encourage and make the most of arts-based learning across all disciplines.

I’m sure it was an exciting and even exhausting conference for all of the attendees, but in my case, it was actually my first two days on the job! So on Day One as Program Manager, I basically got introduced to the Who’s Who of artists, educators, teaching artists, and anyone who cares about the arts in New Hampshire…so, yeah. Pretty crazy, right? Once I remembered that 1) I am actually good at learning names when I work really hard at it and 2) arts educators are awesome people, I knew I would have a good time. It was hard work, in many moments,  but it was all so full of joy that it barely felt like work as I directed people, swept the floor, or took photos and videos to share with our Twitter and Facebook followers on the fly and after the event. (#artsallianceNNH if you want to check it out!)

The conference was a great introduction to those who practice and teach the arts in NH (some I knew already or knew of, but most I hadn’t met yet) and to the issues they face (Common Core, budget challenges, educating a rotating group of lawmakers, etc.) both here and nationally in their work. It was absolutely inspiring, and sometimes heartbreaking, to hear the stories and struggles everyone has faced incorporating arts into education. I had confirmation very early on Friday that this was the work I needed to be doing, and I continue to be thankful for the opportunity as I tackle my new position here at the Arts Alliance.

Perhaps most fun for me at the conference was seeing Frumie’s reaction after I greeted Saturday’s keynote speaker, NH Teacher of the Year (and National Finalist) Heidi Welch, with a giant bear hug. (Frumie Selchen is our venerable leader, if her first name didn’t ring any bells!) Heidi was in the first two productions of my theater company, so it was wonderful to catch up with her, but she surprised me as well when she incorporated me into her keynote speech too. I’m so proud of Heidi – the whole thing just goes to show what a small state NH is, where all of our circles are so interconnected.

In the coming weeks, I have a lot of orientation ahead, but I’ll be sharing photos and videos from the conference and hope to hear from some of the attendees about their reflections post-conference. I’d love to hear from you too, either here or via email, jamie@aannh.org. I also look forward to increasing our presence in social media, so I hope you’ll “like” us on Facebook and even follow us on Twitter (I’m @ArtsANNH) to stay up to date and keep us informed of what you’re seeing too. Feel free to send me photos from the conference and even future program ideas as you think of them!

Thanks for stopping by. This weekend is NH Open Doors, so there is a ton of stuff to do – maybe I’ll see you there!