Innovation and the Audience
Jerome Foundation President, Ben Cameron visits Pratt to discuss the challenges and opportunities of audience development in arts organizations
By Amy Fredericks
In June of 2015, newly appointed President of the Jerome Foundation, Ben Cameron, delivered a guest lecture to the second year cohort of Pratt’s Arts and Cultural Management program. As an arts administrator and arts enthusiast, Cameron has worked extensively to assist artists and arts organizations in their capacity developments. As a self-proclaimed “cultural omnivore,” it is evident that his engagement with the arts has contributed to an acute awareness and insight of the challenges arts organizations face in the presence of technology, and in response to chronic issues such as under capitalization and under compensation. In his lecture, Cameron specifically addressed a “rising dysfunctionality of the 501(c)(3) model.” He outlined several obstacles that are specific to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, which have inevitably prompted arts administrators to make ancillary changes to support the organization’s audience development.
Arts administrators must navigate various dimensions of change in their audiences. One major impetus has been technology, which has personalized and customized consumption to a point where arts administrators must innovate what Cameron refers to as “new pathways to public delivery.” Arts organizations cannot afford to adhere to passive, ossified relationships between artist and audience; instead, they must facilitate an “intentional community design.” These new practices, Cameron put forth, stem from underlying changes in organizational assumption, which include the necessity to design a new value proposition of the arts. Administrators of the arts must proactively re-direct the audience’s attention from individual consumption, or “what is mine,” to a notion that conveys “what is ours.”
In light of these challenges, Cameron stressed that change is not synonymous to loss. Changes simply require a re-definition of value in order to open up new opportunities for audience engagement. For instance, he would advise a hypothetical community-based opera organization’s administrators to ask themselves three questions: “what is the value for opera in my community?,” “what is the value for opera alone?,” and lastly, “how might my organization be my community’s best conduit to opera?.”
In answering these questions Cameron affirmed that quality is not an organization’s core value. Quality, he said, is a given. In this case, it is essential for the innovator and business leader in the arts to re-define intrinsic values, and to remember that change is ultimately driven through value propositions.
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About the Author:
Amy Fredericks is currently a Pratt Arts and Cultural Management graduate student. She has worked in both community-based organizations, where she has experienced art curation and youth education, and in nationally-affiliated institutions, where she has conducted social psychology research and has written articles examining the ‘marketing headspace’ for artists. With a background in psychology and art, coupled with a graduate degree, Amy intends to utilize management and research practices to work towards improving identity, relations and experiences within various cultural contexts.