Blog: Maud Lyon

Our guest blogger for this week is Maud Lyon. Maud is the founding director of the Cultural Alliance, and a consultant for numerous nonprofit organizations.

Check back here each week day to read Maud's thoughts on the state of arts and culture in Michigan.

Collective Voice

Competition for leisure time is intense.  The arts compete with for-profit entertainment, and even more with recreation.  When the kids have an intense schedule of organized sports, how can parents fit in culture? People are working longer hours, and with new technology, there are many opportunities to hear music, read, pursue hobbies and interests with like-minded souls on the internet, and otherwise “timeshift” leisure to the hours available – rather than adjust your schedule to the concert hall or museum.

Audience tastes have shifted, too.  People want more active participation, and a more social context.  If the arts are cool, people come.  If they are perceived as stuffy, intimidating, or too formal, they opt out. 

The result of these factors, in many cultural institutions, is a loss of attendance and audience.  The Collective Voice initiative of the Cultural Alliance is a program to counter this trend.  We are studying recent audience participation and community research, both in our region and nationally, to help our member organizations understand what drives audience decisions.  In fall 2007 we will hold a series of seminars to explore these issues and propose creative new approaches.  In preparation for those seminars, we are gathering data about how we market the arts:  how we promote, how much we spend, and where we put those dollars.  We are also gathering information about the exhibitions, premieres, and other cultural programs that are planned for the next several years.  

In the seminars, we will compare our current practices to the research.  Are we producing the kinds of experiences audiences want?  Are we promoting those programs in the right way, for the audiences we are trying to reach?  The answers to those questions will challenge individual arts organizations to change the way they plan and promote their programs, and give them tools to make their own improvements.  Our goal is to focus on the needs of the community – to listen to our customers.

The Cultural Alliance will also use this information to identify opportunities for collaboration – creating programming focus plans called Cultural Destinations.  A Cultural Destination might be a group of arts organizations in a particular geographic area, or arts programs that interpret a single theme, or which occur in a particular season.  We will organize a collaboration to plan and promote each Cultural Destination, applying the research, and working together to maximize reach and impact.

The Collective Voice initiative will help arts organizations, large and small, to tune their programming to serve our region better – to work together to reach people and do what we do best, uplift every day life to something extraordinary.  The high-tech world is often low-touch:  the arts offer experiences that are authentic, engaging, social, thought-provoking, and real.  Something you just can’t get any other way.