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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Developing Perspective Through the Arts

Perspective – the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

– Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

 We all have our own perspectives through which we view the world.  Our perspective on any given issue is influenced by our upbringing, our education, the people we encounter, the advantages we’re born with and the stumbling blocks we face as we grow. During adolescence, we begin to consciously develop our own perspectives, as we learn about moral complexity and encounter the often conflicting views of those around us.

The more isolated we are, geographically, economically and socially, the less likely it is that we will be exposed to – and learn from — perspectives different from our own.  Yet this exposure is a critical part of growing up.

At the recent Carsey Institute conference on Coos Youth at White Mountains Community College, a session was dedicated to the importance of out-of-school experiences for young people in Coos County.  The data from the Coos Youth Development Study shows that involvement in structured activities outside of the classroom — from clubs to extended learning classes, outdoor excursions to volunteering — is a key indicator for success beyond high school. This finding seems to me to be directly connected to the importance of diverse experiences as opportunities to gain new perspective.

With this idea in mind, the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire is launching a new regional youth arts initiative.  The goal of this program is to help students find their voice – and their views. Arts education, as Matt D’Arigo, founder of A Reason to Survive (ARTS) recently put it, is the perfect place to “[help] youth express themselves and to find their voice in creative ways…the art instruction comes secondarily and intrinsically as youth strive to hone their voice by learning a chosen medium and wanting to express themselves.”

Our pilot youth arts project in July was a partnership with “Girls of Summer” in Lincoln. This wonderful program, which brings middle- and high-school girls together to hike, read and write, was broadened this year through an Extended Learning for Youth grant from the NH State Council on the Arts to include time with a photographer, painters, a poet and an eco-artist.

When we interviewed “Girls of Summer” participants on the culminating day of their program, they reflected on the benefit of connecting outdoor experiences with the arts. The resounding theme of their conversations was, in fact, “perspective.” One girl said that photographer John Anderson “gave me new perspective…taking pictures or out in nature,” and another mentioned that each of the “different artists had different perspectives… different views than our teachers had.” A third student talked about how something simple, like a rock, that most people would overlook, could become a really important focal point for an artist — it “made you look at something way different than you would” ordinarily. Each student was able to see the land around her in a different light, framing the world through the perspectives modeled by the artists, combined with her own individual interpretation and flair.

As one participant explained, “One of the big things we learned was how your perspective changes [depending on] what you’re doing. We were accustomed to just hiking and writing. When you’re writing, you’re given a prompt, and then you find your perspective, and what you want to connect that to, whereas in painting you have this much smaller picture: You already have a focus and you’re adding in your characters and other things… And then in photography you’re given this landscape, this big beautiful picture and you slowly start taking things away to come to a much smaller focus — but it turns out to be actually much bigger! So we learned how to look through the world and the woods in these three different perspectives that each of our different teachers and hikes taught us.”

We can all benefit from experiences that offer us a different lens through which to view our surroundings.  Learning through nature and the arts offers youth perspectives – both literal and metaphorical – that expand their horizons and make them think about the world in fresh new ways and share their discoveries through paintings, poems, photographs, sculpture, music, dance, and more. We are excited about offering youth throughout northern New Hampshire the opportunity to learn from respected professional artists and also to provide community service through volunteering for local cultural organizations. I hope you’ll send youth interested in the arts (from Coos and the rest of northern NH) our way to get involved during the upcoming school year.

What opportunities do you see in your own communities? Where do you see the greatest need for youth arts in northern NH?  What partnerships should we pursue?

We’re looking for a few students from each high school in the region, as well as adult advisors, mentors and volunteers. You can contact us at programs@aannh.org with names, ideas or suggestions, or learn more about the program here.

Note: a version of this post recently appeared in the Coos Networks site. 

Exploring Arts & Nature in Northern New Hampshire

Although I may not have been able to articulate it six months ago, I think one of the areas in which the Arts Alliance most distinguishes itself is environmental arts. Between showings of the documentary “Mother Nature’s Child”, workshops on Environmental Literacy & the Arts (where lessons included the creation of nature journals and discussions addressed ways to develop writing and other curricula with students in an outdoor learning environment), and of course the White Mountain National Forest Artist in Residence summer program, I’ve gotten to learn about and experience the power — and natural fit — of arts in nature in myriad ways since I began my work with the Arts Alliance last fall.

Living where I do in Franconia, I am closer to – and more in dialogue with – nature than I’ve ever been. As a kid, I felt connected to the outdoors, spending entire days in the woods by my suburban home, communing with caterpillars and writing journal entries and stories by the light of the sun filtering through the trees. Now I am constantly bombarded by new experiences in the North Country. From starting my car at -8 degrees, to walking across the street to go for a hike and a picnic by a waterfall, to seeing my first moose cross the road by my apartment, to standing in our driveway, surrounded by fields and fields of fireflies — we are so lucky to have these incredible nature-based experiences at our fingertips. Not to mention that while I could see lots of stars growing up, the skies here definitely have suburban New Hampshire beat!

It’s no wonder that artists have been coming up here to capture the beauty of our area throughout the past two centuries. We of course continue the tradition with our White Mountain National Forest Artist in Residence – Susie O’Keeffe is this year’s artist, and I can’t wait to see what insights come from her time in the Wilderness! She’s an artist of many talents and interests, and her main area of study explores the power and importance of spending time with and in nature – a good bit of therapy for all of us! You can learn more about her here.

This summer, we kick off a new youth arts program at the Arts Alliance of Northern NH. We’ve wanted to do this for a while: the goal is to give high school students interested in the arts a place where they can meet other young people from around northern NH, get hands-on opportunities working with professional artists of all types and become more connected to the arts organizations in the region. We anticipate that volunteer options, job shadowing and lots of leadership opportunities will come out of this, and we’ll be designing the program with the students themselves.

Why do I mention this here? Well, we’re actually beginning with an arts & the environment program this summer. Students entering grades 9-12 can join us in Bethlehem, where they’ll work with a photographer, a poet, two painters and an eco-artist and curator. By the end of the program (which starts July 1 and meets over four days in July), they’ll have worked together to create a variety of artwork inspired by the environment – and they’ll have curated their own art show to share with the community. You (and any youth who might be interested) can learn more about it here. I can’t wait! (We’re also partnering with the “Girls of Summer” program in Lincoln, offering participants time with the same artists.)

Do you ever make art in, or inspired by, nature? I’d love for you to leave your comments here. We’re also looking for adults interested in helping us to craft the youth program, so don’t hesitate to reach out on that either. Thanks for reading, and enjoy all of the beauty around you this summer!

 

Mime Dance and Musical Theater Take Over the North Country!

Overdramatic?

Perhaps a bit. But I saw two phenomenal school assemblies by Karen Montanaro, and let me tell you, her artform, “mime dance”, and her, are the real deal. Children were on the edge of their seat, staff were mesmerized – I cannot WAIT for her performance tonight. There are plenty of tickets, so come on by – and if your kids (in grades 3-7) want to join, they can come to a 6 pm rehearsal and be in the performance with Karen? Pretty great, right? Learn more here. Littleton Opera House at 7:30 p.m. and it’s for all ages. (She will be in Gorham May 30, so if you can’t make it tonight, it isn’t your last chance! More fun stuff to be announced.)

I’m also particularly excited that we’re bringing some lesser-known musical theater to Littleton and Plymouth next week. Not Your Mom’s Musical Theater is just that – a frequent reviewer of NYMMT described them this way,“If you want theatre that’s predictable, safe, familiar, and comfortable, then by all means, stay away from NOT YOUR MOM’S MUSICAL THEATRE. If, however, you like your theatre served up with a big ol’ heapin’ helpin’ of innovation, passion, quirkiness and quality, then get yourself to wherever they happen to be and treat yourself to a feast for the eyes, the ears, the heart and most importantly, the soul.” – Michael J. Curtiss, reviewer for Caught in the Act 

This is a rare chance to see lesser-known musical theater in the North Country, and these actors are stunning – incredibly versatile, fabulous voices – expect to laugh, maybe to cry, and definitely to be entertained. Don’t miss it. Powerful theater to be had! That being said, it’s best for ages 12 & up due to a bit of adult subject matter in a couple of songs. If you like music, you like theater, or you like arts you can’t find anywhere else, this is the place to be. Littleton Opera House at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday, May 10, and in Plymouth at Starr King Fellowship at 2:30 p.m. Enjoy Mother’s Day weekend and combine it with a meal – we’ve got special offers up on our page! Learn more about all of it and get your tickets here.

I am loving northern NH – and particularly loving the opportunity to help bring such amazing acts north. Thank you for spreading the word and supporting what we do – let’s keep doing that and make the arts scene even stronger in the North Country!

p.s. I captured a short but amazing clip of Karen (and the reaction she had on her audience) yesterday – I posted it today on the Arts Alliance of Northern NH Facebook page. Check it out!

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Snowy Days in Piermont, NH And Beyond!

What a snow-filled week it’s been! I hope you’re staying warm!

Amidst the snowdrifts and chilly temperatures, we’ve been busy at the Arts Alliance. Friday I spent the morning at Piermont Village School, where traditional Andean musician Sergio Espinoza of Inkas Wasi was in residence with workshops and an all-school assembly. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The students learned about the history, culture, and (their favorite part) music of the people of the Andes, and in the afternoon they enjoyed an assembly full of traditional music and dance.  One of the most fascinating things for the kids was the variety of sizes of Andean flutes – they ranged from one that fits in the palm of your hand to a pair of flutes more than five feet tall that must be used together to play a scale!

We’re planning to bring Sergio back — along with three other musicians and two dancers — for a regional residency this spring, as part of our “Experiencing the World” multicultural programming. In addition to Inkas Wasi, we will be presenting dance, theater, mime, music and poetry residencies this winter and spring with renowned artists from all around New OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEngland.   Get involved by reaching out to me at Jamie@aannh.org.

I wonder what arts programs you remember from your own childhood – I’d love for you to share! My favorites included poets, inspiring talks –including one about the Gullah people that I especially  loved. I also enjoyed field trips to see theater performances and experience museums.

Finally, we’re always looking for stories about why the arts — and the Arts Alliance! —  are important to you. We’d love to hear from you.           Arts in Education

p.s. If you have a story about rural/small-town America, maybe you should share it with NPR. Learn more here.

It’s Giving Tuesday! How Are You Celebrating?

Happy Holidays everyone!

#GivingTuesday may be a new concept, but taking the time to give to causes we care about and people in need is not a new holiday concept.

 Better Christmas Carol

This holiday season, I’m of course especially aware of AANNH’ Arts in Education campaign. We’re in the midst of it now. All of the money we raise during this year’s Annual Appeal goes towards future arts in education programming in the North Country.

Appeal Full Banner

Whether you’re supporting a White Mountain artist-in-residence, bringing a wonderful dancer or visual artist into schools, Annual Appeal 6

or providing a film workshop for high school students, the possibilities and potential for life-changing work are endless.

How are you supporting #GivingTuesday?

My Five Favorite Things about the Arts Alliance of Northern NH (So Far)

Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for your support of the arts and of our work here. Safe travels and stay warm this season! I’ve been enjoying getting to know the North Country of NH better. Towns I’ve spent time in so far: Albany, Bethlehem, Conway, Franconia, Freedom, Gorham, Lancaster, Littleton, Plymouth, Shelburne, and more! 

The view at the Environmental Literacy through the Arts workshop at the beautiful Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, NH.

The view at the Environmental Literacy through the Arts workshop at the beautiful Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, NH.

As I’ve now passed the month mark on the job, I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite things about our organization.

My Five Favorite Things About AANNH (So Far):

  1. AANNH is all about the arts – from visual to performing, from traditional crafts to contemporary dance, and from Arts in Health to Arts in Early Learning, AANNH supports and recognizes the arts across the region.
  2. AANNH recognizes the value of education in everything we do in the arts – from professional development to choosing teaching artists and presenters, the role of education is never forgotten. (In fact, the 2013 Annual Fund is dedicated to AANNH’s Arts in Education efforts, and we’re kicking off the campaign today if you’d like to support us!)
  3. AANNH has members in all disciplines, from supporters to artists to arts organizations to local businesses, who unite to support the quality work of the Arts Alliance. (FYI that we are raffling off a print by Jeanette Fournier – anyone who signs up or renews their membership before the end of the year is entered to win!)
  4. AANNH staff and volunteers work tirelessly and are a wonderful, fun, hard-working group I’m honored to be a part of!
  5. “We’re All In This Together” isn’t just the theme of this year’s work at AANNH – it’s also the overwhelming theme when I attend events, workshops, and more. When we hold workshops and have conversations with our peers who are engaged in the same work, it is sustaining and life-affirming. Someone else knows what I am going through! It gives us new resources and new confidence to tackle the challenges when we return to our classrooms, organizations and communities.

So my question to you is obvious – what are your favorite things about AANNH? We love feedback and hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts and your favorite things so that we can do the best work possible and continue to fill the needs you see in your communities.