Tuesday, March 20, 2007

No More Masterpieces (or why are we still teaching this?)

One of the things that I really love about working at Americans for the Arts is that I get to interact regularly with our numerous interns, most of whom are either in their final year of graduate or undergraduate programs in arts administration. It hasn't been that long since I myself finished graduate school, so I always like to compare notes on what is currently being taught.

When I was a theater management/producing graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts, I was required to read The Theatre & its Double by Antonin Artaud. One of the chapters in this book was entitled No More Masterpieces. In this chapter Artuad argues that works from the past "masters" (i.e. Shakespeare, Moliere, etc) shouldn't be produced regularly in current day because they are no longer topical--they no longer connect with current day audiences. In fact, they should be studied for a historical reference and viewed almost as museum pieces.

This is how I regard Danny Newman's book Subscribe Now!. Danny Newman is a legend in the arts marketing world, and definitely changed the wayperforming arts organizations marketed their products. His book was ground breaking in the 1970's. People started designing subscription campaigns around Danny's advice. He was the guru of subscription packaging. However times have changed. Theatre Communications Group for the first time reported that in 2005, revenue from single ticket sales surpassed subscription revenue. We all know that subscriptions (especially traditional ones) are becoming less and less popular. So why do we continue to teach the subscription method as the gospel in our arts administration classes?

Still to this day, a great majority of interns are still reporting that they are being taught the single ticket buyer--subscriber--donor pyramid that was developed in the 1970's. Why not teach this model in the proper context? Danny's book revolutionized arts marketing. It was responsible for the tremendous growth of hundreds of companies. But the tide has turned. We now need to address the fact that audiences are no longer subscribing at the rates they used to. We can either continue to teach an outdated model and send our students into the world unprepared, or we can present the current facts and hopefully one of them will be the next Danny Newman and come up with a brilliant solution.

Don't get me wrong. Danny Newman's book should be required reading for all arts administration students, but more in line with other historical texts such as Uptan Sinclair's The Jungle. The Jungle is a riveting description of the meat packing industry in the 1920's and was a catalyst for huge amounts of change, but is no longer considered an accurate description of the industry in current day.

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