Dear Arts Marketers…let’s stop counting occasionally

I’m an arts marketer. This means, among many other things, that I count things. Many things. Everything from website hits to YouTube views to people in the audience to number of times someone asks me “hey, have you ever thought of [insert marketing idea I’ve most definitely thought of]?”.

My job is to somehow quantify the unquantifiable. I’m not allowed to say “that felt like a big crowd,” or “seemed like folks saw our ad”. I’m supposed to have numbers to back it all up.

It’s hard sometimes to get those numbers. In truth, it’s hard most of the time, because once we get them, inevitably we want more and different numbers.

And there are times when this need to justify our existence via numbers puts us at odds with our artistic or education colleagues. It’s not PC to say it, but it’s true; sometimes we speak different languages, even though we’re on the same team.

That’s why I love moments like today. Here’s the setup in its briefest format.

A local public radio station puts on a festival called Cartoonfest. Basically, they play Bugs Bunny on the big screen in Boston’s Symphony Hall, and invite a bunch of local groups to play classical music in various rooms throughout the day. Kids get their faces painted and scavenge for stickers and otherwise run rampant in one of the most hallowed symphonic music halls in the country.

It’s cute. It’s fun. And today I realized that, despite my hopes otherwise, it’s a pretty lousy marketing/PR event for my little non-profit. See, the local radio station doesn’t carry our radio show, and there’s barely any time to try to collect emails or contact info from people in the audience. Half the time, people arrive 15 minutes into our 30 minute set and leave 10 minutes later. There’s no real way to count the audience.

Depressing, if all we care about is numbers. But I left our 30 minute set anything but depressed.

See, the young musicians we work with at From the Top are exceptional teenagers. There’s no other word for it. They are remarkable. And today, I watched a 15- and 17-year-old sister/brother cello/violin duo put on a 30 minute presentation that was more interesting and thoughtful than most chamber music concerts I’ve been to. They poked fun at each other like siblings do. They played Bach, Schubert, Shostakovich, and Piazzolla. They gave charming little intros to every piece of music they played. They THOUGHT about their audience and how to engage them. They were delightful and played like a million bucks. And did I mention they were 15 and 17?

I watched the crowd of kids as they played. A few were bored or squirmy. But more than a few sat rapt, knees pulled to their chests, completely attuned. I happened to catch this little moment with one of the youngest audience members:

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When was the last time you went to a concert and got that kind of connection with the musicians on stage?

I kept trying to count the audience as I was watching the show, until finally, I mentally threw up my hands and said, “No.” The number of people in the room did not even come close to representing the GOOD that came from this little 30 minutes of music. That two busy teenagers would give up hours of their time to write a script and practice together, and do it with such care and consideration, was worth more than any numbers.

That a few young audience members could see people their age, less than 10 feet away, playing with joy and passion and obvious respect for each other and their music, was entirely worth it. To think that even one kid in that audience might decide to keep playing music because they were inspired – that was enough.

For a few lovely moments today, I simply didn’t CARE what the quantifiable result of this performance was. I was just able to appreciate how making music is wonderful, how listening to music is wonderful, and how supporting young people in doing those things is one of the best jobs a person could have. And one of the most important, if we want our country to be the greatest in the world.

Sometimes, we have to stop counting and simply appreciate when good things are happening. When a few good people do something good. I’m glad I got to do that today.

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