Monday, April 5, 2010

Marketing Culture to the 21st Century (Part 2)

"No man ever forgot the visitations of that power to his heart and brain, which created all things new, which was the dawn in him of music, poetry and art" -- Ralph Waldo Emerson (as quoted in an advertisement in this weekend's Cleveland orchestra program)

Continuing from Part I

Since my fateful appearance at the concert mentioned in Part I, my awareness of classical concerts and recitals -- not just the Cleveland Orchestra but the dozens of organizations performing classical in this town -- has skyrocketed along with my attendance and I love the discovery of hearing a new work; the shared experience of hearing beautiful music live.

However, I still cannot stand listening to recorded classical: To this day, despite a surgical attachment to an iPod with nearly 293 hours of music across 4,637 songs (and spending close to that amount on orchestra tickets this season) I have less than two dozen classical tracks in the mix. Conversely, despite that massive collection of digital music I can not stand listening to contemporary music -- where my tastes are decidedly in the pop/alt/rock sphere -- live.

Likewise, digital images of my one of favorite works of art, Frederich Amerling's The Young Eastern Woman are readily available, even on the Cleveland Museum of Art's own website--but despite the convenience of viewing a duplicate of the image from my own desk, the digital form is a poor substitute.

Standing in front of the painting engenders any number of feelings: An awe for the detail represented, the mesmerizing quality of the model's eyes, a sense of history for a work that has crossed the ocean at least once and isn't far from its 200th birthday. What happened to the model? The studio where it was painted? The owners whose hands it has passed through—who else has occupied this space? "This" painting exists in only one place: Here, University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio. Every person who walks by will see something different and take something different away as light and shadow play across the cracked oil on canvass. Digital images exist anywhere--and everywhere--at any given moment.

So the problem is not that the two are competitors, the problem is finding ways to attract younger audiences who haven't had the exposure. It seems like a difficult marketing challenge: How do you convince someone who hasn't been exposed to the art in the strings and canvass environment to part with both money and time to try it at least once?

The biggest problem is that the beauty of these artistic bodies do not lend themselves to modern marketing: If someone who doesn't think they like Matisse gets a postcard with a 3" print of a painting from the Museum of Art that postcard won't create the kind of transformative experience that a visit to the galleries can, nor will it, on its own, motivate a visit. Hearing the Orchestra on the radio can never reach the level of immersion and emotional connection of hearing it in person. Seeing and hearing opera on PBS is a pitiful substitute for the captivation of live performance.

So how can we, as a society, attract people who don't think of themselves as the audience for everything there is to offer--in Cleveland and the wider world?

(To be continued in Part III)

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