How to Remain Culturally Relevant Part 3

How can cultural institutions build loyal audiences beyond their core “cultural believers”?

Our expectations of cultural experiences have changed, in large part due to technology. We are so accustomed to interactive multimedia entertainment experiences on our phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs, we have less patience than ever for traditional contemplative cultural experiences.

The general public and especially younger generations want to be both enlightened and entertained.

As the world shifts, you need to shift along with it. That’s a lesson that the music industry failed to heed for many years as digitization eroded sales of their core products.

In the previous articles I looked at three methods that cultural institutions can take to engage new audiences:

  • entry point” programming,
  • multiple programming streams,
  • revised positioning.

Those methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but each one is a stopgap solution. There is, however, one other solution – one with the biggest hurdles to leap but the greatest potential long-term reward:

  • rethinking your core product.

Changing your product doesn’t require you to change your organization’s core mandate. The purpose of a museum is to preserve and study history and culture, and to present it to the public. It’s WHAT you present and HOW you present it that has to change with the times.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has recognized the need to rethink its product. As I noted in the first part of this article, the TSO’s website states that the organization has “a commitment to innovative programming and audience engagement through a broad range of performances”.

The TSO’s product is loosely defined as “a broad range of performances”. There is no mention of classical or symphonic music. While classical performances still comprise the bulk of their concert calendar, their mandate indicates a rethink of their product, which now includes programming with a wider demographic appeal.

The National Geographic Society’s purpose has always been “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge”, or as their CEO put it a few years ago, to “bring the world to readers”.

For many years, their main product was their magazine – instantly recognizable for its yellow-framed cover and inspirational travel photography. As technology changed our ability to access high quality photography, readership of the Society’s magazine plummeted. The National Geographic Society responded with a complete rethink of their core product. They launched the National Geographic TV channel and invested heavily in online platforms.

National Geographic still brings the world to readers. However, they understood the changing needs and interests of their target audiences, and they now deliver an immersive experience that both educates and entertains their audience.

The National Geographic Instagram feed has over 77 million followers, the 13th most popular account on Instagram.

It’s a case study that all arts and culture organizations can follow so that they don’t become “museum pieces” – frozen in time and increasingly irrelevant.

Andrew Arntfield, President, Field Day Inc.

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