There has been a lot of talk about the future of the regional arts movement, i.e. regional theatre, regional dance, etc.
Allow me to weigh in with two points:
1. The regional arts movement is over.
2. The local arts movement has just begun.
In my town, I would put maybe 9 or 10 arts groups into the realm of regional, meaning that they are intended to serve audiences not only from Chicago, but from Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, etc.
As you can expect, these groups are pretty large and thus suck a lot of air out of the room.
So much air, in fact, that I don't see a scenario where another organization is going to come up and join them in that rare air.
It's going to be very, very, difficult for a theatre to go from a group of actors to the multi-million dollar gorilla known as Steppenwolf.
It would take divine intervention for a group of dancers to become another Joffrey Ballet.
That model, from small group to large institution has been done . . . and now it's finished.
You can't control a region anymore. Just like a network TV boss can't depend on the entire country watching anything he does.
Markets are way too fragmented and way too broad to try and control them all.
You don't have that sort of money.
You don't have that sort of time.
What is possible, however, is to be powerfully local.
My day job is located in Hyde Park. Here are the demographics of the area:
So, its a fairly diverse area . . . not just in terms of race, but in lifestyle, income, etc.
Now here's the deal, for DECADES, my day job was ignoring signficiant portions of their local population. I've got my theory about why that is, you may have another . . . but let's just acknowledge the previous situation.
Over the past few years they have slowly started to do programming that is reflective of the entire community they live in.
Now here's the thing, people call that sort of thing "diversification" which makes it sound like you are doing someone a favor by reaching out to them.
But go back and look at the demographics. What some call diversification is probably better defined as my day job doing a better job of serving their local community.
I'm constantly amused by the arts organizations that covet "arts consumers" that may live 20 miles away from them, while ignoring the ones right down the block because they don't fit the "profile" they have in their head of what an arts consumer looks like.
They expect people to drive across town to see them, when they can't convince someone to walk six blocks for the experience.
They underestimate the power of having someone who is able to walk by their artistic headquarters on the way to work.
They forget the impact it can have when people feel like something belongs to them and not the entire world.
The new world order looks something like this:
1. Large, regional arts groups working damn hard to control a piece of the pie. Some of them will make it, some will not.
2. Small, powerfully local, arts organizations that will tailor their artistic programming to appeal to the people in a 5-10 mile radius.
The ones who will REALLY be in trouble, are those arts organizations who are in desparate grab to find anyone . . . anywhere . . . who will come see their stuff. That path gets ugly in a hurry.
Here's how this could work in practice:
You're a musician that has gotten herself booked in four venues over the next few months.
You take each venue and draw an imaginary circle around a two or three mile radius around the place.
That's your target. Own that space.
Every business, every church, every civic organization in that radius should know you are coming.
So you spend a little time researching how information get's out in that space. Is there a neighborhood newspaper . . . a facebook page . . . you'll almost certainly find something.
Now you're starting to visit those areas. Maybe you bring a few CD's with you. You're meeting folks (or if you're shy, you've got a friend meeting folks on your behalf). You hand out the CD's, talk to folks, get an impression on what's going on.
If you invest enough time in this, when you do your gig in that venue, your chances of success are now dramatically improved.
Be powerfully local. That's the secret. Give it a try.