By early March 2020, businesses small and large were shutting their doors. Events across the state were being canceled with no word on rescheduling. Schools were shifting to virtual learning. The coronavirus pandemic was taking hold of our communities in unprecedented ways. And Pittsburgh-area artists were left with no upcoming exhibitions, shows, residencies, performances, or gigs - essential sources of income.
Three Pittsburgh-area artists and community organizers were among the first to take action in support of the creative community. Julie Mallis, Joshua Orange, and sarah huny young - all personally affected by the pandemic - started the PGH Artist Emergency Fund on GoFundMe. Within two days, $10,000 had been raised to benefit local artists. At the time, artists could apply for up to $250 through the fund to help offset financial losses due to cancelled gigs and jobs.
Joshua Orange, sarah huny young, and Julie Mallis
Matt Lehrman wants you to be extraordinary.
Lehrman brought his Audiences Everywheretm workshop to the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center last week, to a full house. Sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and Patron Manager, in attendance were artistic directors, marketers, and curators from non-profits that included museums, theater companies, and music organizations from the Pittsburgh area.
At the start of his presentation, Lehrman said he didn’t expect the things he would be talking about to work in every city.
But referring to a recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts on arts participation of adults in America, he reported that this activity had fallen from 39% in 1982 to 33.3% in 2012. And Lehrman was less than reassuring in letting us know this drop had occurred in cities across the country. In addition, using household data (1.2 million households during a 5-year timeframe) from Phoenix, Arizona (where he is Interim Managing Director of the Arizona Theatre Company), Lehrman presented data showing the rate of return visits by individuals to theaters and museums: 80% of the households had just one visit to an arts group during that period. The numbers for the Pittsburgh area are not much different – about 75%.
So how do non-profits relying on audiences visitors get people to attend and -- more importantly -- come back? “Our enemy is empty seats,” he said. “An empty seat never recommended anything to anyone.”
Lehrman suggested many ways to build an audience including changing an organization’s PUSH paradigm from MISSION, CURATION, MARKETING, AUDIENCE INTEREST to a PULL paradigm made up of MISSION, AUDIENCE INTEREST, CURATION, ENGAGE. Because, he said, an audience comes to an event for their values, not yours. This change would take into account what an audience might be interested in before an artistic director or curator developed a theater season or a museum exhibit. Otherwise, he emphasized, you’re just selling a product: “More marketing has started from the need to sell rather than the need to buy,” he noted.
The workshop ended with Lehrman asking the attendees to name their “extraordinary” -- what are they doing that is inspiring or relevant? The need now is to get people out of the house to participate in extraordinary experiences.
As an example of bringing together the arts and a community, he told us about the Opera Memphis Sears Crosstown Building project. Once a thriving shopping area, the building was closed in 1993. However, Opera Memphis commissioned composers to write short operas about the people who worked, shopped, or lived near the building.
Why is being extraordinary so important in the arts today? According to Lehrman, “The arts and cultural sector is on thin ice.” It’s our own inconvenient truth.
(Photo Credit: Jeron Moore)
Video games and symphony came together on Saturday for Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions at Heinz Hall. Princeton Entertainment and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra showcased music from the “Pokémon” series beginning with “Red” and “Green” for the original GameBoy, and working through each generation to “X” and “Y” for the 3DS.
This is not the first time the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has played songs from beloved video game soundtracks. Producer Jeron Moore and composer Chad Seiter tapped them in 2013 and 2012 for the Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tour. Pittsburgh was just the third stop of the Pokémon tour, with more tour dates and locations being announced in the near future.