Towards a Universal Theory: Report from Spain
When I received an invitation from Asimetrica in Madrid to present a keynote at its first “arts marketing annual conference,” I was thrilled to be part of what seemed to be the European version of our NAMP conference. It was held last week and was a two-day event that drew mostly Spanish arts executives and a group of speakers from the U.S./U.K. and Spain. In some ways it was less an international conference about arts marketing than a Spanish arts marketing conference with international arts marketing guest speakers. Nonetheless, it provided a rare opportunity to compare and contrast the challenges of arts marketing here and abroad.
I came to the conference hoping to confirm a long-held assumption that the European model of arts funding was superior to ours. After all, the art forms we focus on (classical music, theater, dance and visual arts) were initially imported, and it seemed self-evident that arts interest must permeate these countries. That’s why governments there fund the arts almost 100%. How lucky these arts group are, I thought, not having to devote their time to raising money from their patrons.
That might have been true in the past, but no longer. The economic crisis that has swept Western Europe seems to me more significant than ours, and the survival of many arts organizations is at stake. When the government is your single source of support, but the government is under siege and unemployment is at 20%, suddenly support for the arts is no longer a given. There were talks describing how governments were preparing to make (if not already making) massive cuts to the arts. The entire regional arts audience development infrastructure in the U.K. is being dismantled because of a huge budget cut.
In an era of severely scarce resources, politics require that funding for the arts is pitted against funding for social services. The dialogue in Europe is very much like the dialogue here: How do we make the case for the value of supporting the arts? Those passionate about it have to make the claim that the arts are worth it, and as important that some other government priority.
But in Europe there is hardly any history of donor development, no “give or get” board structure with deep-pocketed board members to reach out to, and no infrastructure in place to motivate ticket buyers to pressure the government, much less systems or staff to make up for these losses under the gun.
My experience in Spain confirmed for me that the lessons we’ve been preaching in our book The Fifth Wall and in selling our PatronManager CRM system are feeling to me like universal truths for the future of arts marketing and the survival of the arts:
Job number one is to build deep relationships with your audience, and make that as important as making art. Arts marketing isn’t about simply getting the word out and filling seats. It’s all about audience development: Knowing intimately who your audience members are, communicating with them as if you know them personally, and focusing on keeping and motivating the audience you do have as much as finding a new audience.
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