Sunday, December 07, 2014
Not Voting With Their Feet, Exactly...
There were always other events in competition with the few things we tried once with low success, and never repeated. The one bit of advice I would give is to try more than once and try to improve attendance before giving up. Some things have to be there every year if they are going to catch on.
(1) We put on lots of performances, as that's our gig. We have very good partnerships with regional managed-care and retirement communities, who always send bus loads of audiences members to performances.
(2) Our "audition days" (two weekends in February when most of the TX, NM, OK kids come to play for teachers, usually with parents and relatives in tow, are full-splash events: Friday evening free performances, all day meet-the-faculty-and-tour-the-school Saturday, big crowd-pleaser concert program Saturday night. Boss insists that ALL faculty members--not only those hearing students' auditions--attend, stand up on stage, describe what they do, give contact info. Also includes "no parents or teachers" info sessions hosted by current students. Lots of personal contact, coffee breaks, outgoing behavior. Repeatedly parents (esp TX parents, who put great stock in the personal touch) tell us "this is so much friendlier than X or Y or school--no one there really seemed to care."
(3) My own personal research/advocacy center brings in guest artists, but also does tons of outreach events in the community (music/dance/theatre): public schools, senior centers, managed-care facilities, hospitals and rehab centers, etc. Energetic and engaged young kids in a room with these other populations yields lots of community support.
(4) We have a number of programs that serve as direct (if informal) feeder programs into our VPA programs: high school mariachi, tango, theater, and dance programs mentored or taught by our grad students. This brings participating kids (and their extended families) onto campus when their kids play in the recital halls.
(5) We have excellent support from local NPR affiliate and community/student radio stations. They are typically very willing to have our faculty or students come on-air to promote and/or perform.
(6) One small positive aspect of the 24-hour news cycle is that the hour-long local news shows (especially those beginning at 8am or 5pm, targeting seniors) are typically very receptive to having our folks come on to play or talk. It necessitates schlepping to the station at often-ungodly hours, but live TV yields demonstrable results.
(7) We cultivate the student newspaper, which is essentially a terrible rag designed to supply resume fodder to kids, many of them dreadfully unsupervised. But because many of these student papers publish 5 days a week, they are always looking for copy and, often, photographs.
(8) We partner with area museums and cultural centers: we provide programming to them, they bring their students and/or clientele to our campus events.
(9) We try to become visible in annual calendar events. Just last night I led one of our folk-dance groups at an outdoor "street-festival" in the university/medical residential neighborhood near campus. Only played for an hour (next to the food trucks), but there was a ton of free press and lots of community goodwill. Becoming a regular part of such events builds community buy-in.
(10) Folks in our Mass Comm and Journalism programs (as well as my colleagues in VPA) are very active in regional arts events, center, festivals, and so forth. A friend (interim chair of Mass Comm) curates a film festival and has forged a really healthy relationship with the local Alamo Drafthouse that's already very successful.
As I said, I realize a lot of these are specific to a College of Visual and Performing Arts, but I think they do translate to other disciplines as well, with some imagination and stick-to-it-ivity.
Thanks for posing this--really stimulating.