For today’s posting or should I say – rant – I’m going to focus on the non-profit visual arts lack of communication skills. The commercial art galleries are scrambling for every inch of publicity they can get in these times. Example – I had already received more info about exhibits taking place at commercial galleries in November than we would have room for (under the current level of paid advertising) – before our deadline for the October issue. The commercial folks don’t have as big a problem with promoting their exhibitions. It’s the non-profits who have my goat lately. And, we can exclude a few of the major institutions – I have some of their press releases stored for as far in advance as March 2010.
Earlier in October and during the end of September (09) I was delivering our Oct. 09 issue of Carolina Arts and a tour booklet for the Greenville Open Studios tour – taking place Nov. 7 & 8, 2009, in and around the Greenville, SC, area. They pay me to do this so I give it my extra effort – going to places we don’t usually go to every month. It’s a reminder of what I used to do – how far I was traveling to spread the news about the visual arts in SC – between 1995 – 1997 when we were called South Carolina Arts. I was going everywhere – like I was an arts missionary. I gave up on that and for good reason. I was reminded of some of those reasons during the last couple of days while working on our massive gallery listings.
Since I had been reminded of some of the visual arts spaces spread throughout the hinterland of SC, I decided that I would do some extra research on the Internet this month and try to find out what these gallery spaces were presenting in November, so we could add them to our online version of the paper – which carries much more info than is found in the printed version of the paper. This was almost as frustrating as being a Carolina Panther fan.
I have to do this research online as these groups don’t send us info about their exhibits – some because they figure if they are not going to be in the printed paper – why bother, and some – because they haven’t figured out how to yet or just don’t send PR outside their town limits.
Some of these organization’s websites are not worth the space they take up on the Internet. Lucky for the rest of us, the info they provide doesn’t take up much cyber-space, as most can barely tell you what’s on exhibit – any day you pull their site up – much less tell you what they will be showing a month from now. Some can only tell you – in as few words as possible – that they are having an exhibit in a certain month. Some don’t even provide the beginning and ending dates of the exhibit. Without that info it’s totally useless to us and our readers. Who wants to travel any distance taking a chance that since one month has 31 days in it that the exhibit they want to see will really be available any day of that month – I know I won’t. I don’t have time and gas money to burn to do that.
In some cases you just can’t be sure of what year they are talking about since they don’t post the year anywhere on the site and since some sites haven’t been updated since the day they were launched – you can’t take a chance that the info is for this year or 2002.
Yet, in the year 2009 – this is how many non-profit organizations operate – with as little info provided to the public – the same public they are supposed to be serving or in some cases – too much unrelated info.
Arts Councils seem to be some of the worst at communicating info about their visual art offerings – mostly in my opinion – because they don’t make any money off of exhibits. These arts councils bombard me with info about art classes and programs targeting children, while at the same time they can’t make the effort to provide info about exhibits – which are offered for free. They seem to be more interested in baby-sitting children for a fee than anything else.
Yes, these classes and programs may be a needed source of income, for artists and the arts councils, but these same groups receive funding from taxpayer funded agencies for providing services to the public – including art exhibits. Any group that receives public funding should be required to provide the public with info about what and where that money is going. If you get money from the state – you should do statewide publicity. They should have to prove it in their application process. But then again, the SC’s Arts Commission is not that good at communicating themselves, so I’m not surprised at the condition the recipients of their funding are in – as far as their communication skills go. We seem to have fallen off the list of who gets press release from the Arts Commission. Is Carolina Arts now considered an affiliate of FOX News?
Another factor is that many of these arts councils are run by – at best – one or two paid staff people with help from volunteers – if they are lucky. Many are overburdened with the task of running a multi-cultural organization and some are under-qualified to do the job to begin with. Most board members of these organizations just think their duty is making decisions – not performing tasks.
Artists’ Guilds present a different problem – with the same results. They have a very bad habit of changing all its organization’s officers – every year. By the time most learn how to do their duties – the year is over and they just hand it off to the next person and the circle continues. Every time a good publicity person comes along – it just makes things worse when their term is over – it’s a crash and burn situation and you have to get someone used to the process all over again. If you get a good publicity person – you should do whatever you can to keep them in that position – even if you have to pay them. And, before they retire from that position they should train their replacement for six months – so there is not a fall off when the transition is made.
City run arts agencies are some of the worst at communicating. The City of Charleston (SC) Office of Cultural Affairs has just discovered the Internet and up to a few years ago – wouldn’t, couldn’t (not sure which it was) – send info by e-mail. They were still mailing (snail mail) info to people and most of the time it arrived late – if it arrived at all – because it was mailed with non-profit postage – which doesn’t even have to be delivered. The postman can just dump it if they feel like it.
The other day I received a postcard from the City of Raleigh Arts Commission in Raleigh, NC. The front of the card says “Celebrate Downtown Raleigh Public Art” and it shows four windows naming what I guess is four programs (Art-On-The-Move, Art on City Plaza, Horizon Line, and Zoom Raleigh). At the bottom of the card it says, “Transforming our City of Oaks into a City of the Arts!”.
On the back of the card it has a mailing address for the Raleigh Art Commission, an invitation to a reception on the eve for something called Raleigh Wide Open (no explanation of what that is) to celebrate four public art programs – the date and time – the location of the event – a list of supporters – a phone number and a web address. Not a lot of information about what this is about, but then who doesn’t like being invited to a reception – if you have the time?
I checked the website. I don’t want to make a long-distance call and explain to several people what info I’m looking for – racking up the charges or using cell time. The website doesn’t really offer any further info, but I did learn something about this organization’s communicating skills. The phrase on the postcard I received doesn’t match the phrase on the city’s website – “Transforming the City of Oaks into the Creative Capital of the South!”. The card says, “Transforming the City of Oaks into the Arts!” – which doesn’t make sense – so it might be that the official phrase is too long for the card or too long to remember. But then again, Winston-Salem, NC, claims to be the City of the Arts.
On Oct. 18th – weeks after I received the postcard from the Raleigh Arts Commission, I found this story by Craig Jarvis of the Raleigh News & Observer, which explained Raleigh Wide Open and the four public art projects.
Although I would applaud any city for putting money into art projects and works that will remain on display – it really didn’t sound that exciting, unusual, or like something that would transform the city of oaks into the arts or the creative capital of the South.
The fact that I had to come across this article about Raleigh Wide Open in random searches for info about the visual arts taking place in the Carolinas – shows a lack of communication skills by this city organization.
You ask if the burden shouldn’t be on the media to keep up with such information? Stick with that line of thinking and you’ll always be left out. The media is getting barraged by arts organizations with requests for coverage – not just in the visual arts. And, the visual arts is way behind the performing arts in capturing most media attention. So the burden is on the presenters to reach out as much as they can and in an effective way.
A small postcard in this case might have fit into the Raleigh Arts Commission’s budget, but an informative e-mail would have been more effective, timely, and free.
Of course the real fad these days is the use of Constant Contact – another “wonderful” product from Microsoft. It is the worst form of communicating to the media. It may be OK for your general mailing list, but not the media. For one thing – I have never received an answer to any reply I make after receiving one in time to make a difference or at all. It’s as if you were dropping flyers from a plane – you don’t care who gets the info or where it goes – you did your job by sending it – BS!
Constant Contact is just a prepackaged form of the old – let’s see how many different fonts I can use, in a variety of colors, and how many useless graphics I can throw in to fill the space.
It looks pretty – it looks almost professional – it looks like a family holiday newsletter. And, it is totally useless to people who just want the facts in a form that is easy for them to copy and paste into the format their media uses. Stop using it for the media.
Once again – if you are a PR person for an artist, a gallery, an arts council, artists guild, visual arts organization, art museum, university or college gallery – contact the person who processes the info you want to get in their media – ask them how they would like to receive it (not what’s the easiest for you) and when they would like to receive it for their deadlines. This is an individual thing – case by case – there is no one way to satisfy all the media’s needs.
And by the way – you might want to check out that media outlet to see if they might even use the info you are about to send. I spend a lot of my day deleting e-mail and tossing regular mail by folks who have sent us a press release about something we have never included in our paper – even from groups outside the Carolinas. I guess that Carolina Arts name just goes over their head.
One last point directed at artists. I don’t mind you letting me know you’re going to be in an exhibit (in the Carolinas) as a heads up, but we like to receive press releases about these exhibits from the folks hosting them. Nine times out of ten we find that press releases from individual artists tend to leave out the other artists showing works in that exhibit. They made it read like they were the only artist in the show – as if it was a solo show. We’re not going to let you leave them out, so don’t bother sending such incomplete information. Shame on you anyway. And, if you can’t get the name right of the institution you claim to have had an exhibit at in your listed credits – we’re taking it out – so make sure you give your gallery updated and correct info. It’s like all the local artists who claim to have had a show or be in a show during the Spoleto Festival, when they were in the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Some local artists have been featured at Spoleto – but it’s just a few. It’s a big difference between the two festivals.
Why bother with all this? Yes, I’m trying to make my life a little better – OK maybe a whole lot better, but I’m also trying to make people and organizations better communicators too.
It is also a WARNING. I am at the point where I will no longer spend my time trying to get clarification on bad or incomplete info sent to us. Meaning it will just disappear and it will never be considered for inclusion in our paper or on our website. We will continue to help our advertisers get info to us – after all they make Carolina Arts possible, but no one else.
If you’re not seeing info you sent us in Carolina Arts or on Carolina Arts Online – there is probably a good reason for it. You didn’t communicate very well or you didn’t know that we only cover the visual arts, mainly exhibitions, taking place in North and South Carolina. Maybe you should send your info to the New Yorker – I’m sure they would be interested to receive it.