This post is part of our “Optimizing Your Arts Marketing Practice” blog salon.

For years in the arts, we have strived to conceive of and grow meaningful programs that are engaging to a variety of communities. However, sometimes a step is missed and even if a program or event is successful, a lasting relationship with a community is not built or maintained afterward. An honest, unreserved commitment to community collaboration brings healing and positive growth.

While reflecting on 2018 thus far and thinking ahead to 2019 in the world of arts marketing, the word communication keeps coming to mind. We have all noticed the importance of not only clear, but respectful communication over the last year—even over the last month. It seems to be much easier to miscommunicate a message or feeling in this fast-paced time, but taking the time to connect, especially when creating art and building community, carries greater importance now than ever. The New Philanthropists (TNP) is an Austin-based organization that strives to increase diversity and inclusivity in the nonprofit sector by ensuring leadership reflects the communities it serves. A group I am a part of, Austin Emerging Arts Leaders (AEAL), was recently part of the first group of local organizations to complete a TNP Board Inclusion Assessment. To begin this program, the AEAL board of directors had to communicate with each other and TNP our goals for positive change within our organization. Starting that communication eliminated any “elephants” in the room and provided trust between TNP and AEAL to continue the important work of growing and changing together.

Compassion comes next in the process of developing successful community partnerships and programs. If one doesn’t listen and respond with compassion after initiating communication with a community or possible collaborator, the early stages of building that relationship are broken. During the TNP project, after AEAL provided honest feedback on the makeup of our board leadership and how we want to better reflect and represent our community, TNP responded with compassionate understanding and possible next steps we could take. The key is to reciprocate and transfer that compassion into any new relationships we make in building our future leadership. Compassion should be used in any programming or marketing strategy as well.

I have always felt that once you have spent some time developing clear communication and addressing the initial steps of programming with compassion, collaboration is the key to lasting success. An organization with which I was honored to work with this year, Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District, exemplifies successful collaborations in community building. A lot of the inspiration for the panel discussion I’ll be participating in during this year’s National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC) in Seattle came from the creative placemaking project I helped with earlier this year with Six Square. In helping preserve and promote this section of East Austin, I learned the importance of “place-keeping,” as well as the need to collaborate with neighborhood businesses and city government and corporate entities. Another recent Six Square program, the reanimation of the 12th St & Chicon mural, utilized effective community engagement techniques such as town hall discussions with community members. In our NAMPC session on November 11, we’ll talk about more specific ways that collaboration can help strengthen community relationships.

Building community is often a goal for arts organizations because we all want to know we have a place to go where we are supported and accepted. A question I hear a lot is, “How do we reach out to new communities?” To me, the answer is easy. Just reach out. There are steps to community outreach and engagement just like there are steps to building a relationship with anyone. The key is to learn and listen to the history, current needs, and future goals within a community, so you can become a part of it (if you’re not already) and work toward those goals together. If you feel like you are outside of a community, then you are not achieving engagement and are scratching the surface of any relationship or collaboration. All of this takes time.

Mural reanimation project by Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District. Art by Chris Rogers, photo by Sarah Rucker, 2018.

If your organization feels like their outreach and engagement is not as successful as they had hoped, remember these four key approaches to bring you back to the root of meaningful arts programming. Without clear and honest communication, compassion for your colleagues, collaborations with new and old friends/groups, and the goal of building community, positive change cannot be achieved in the arts and the world around us.