Archive for July, 2009

Art of Bezos & Hsieh

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Jeff Bezos knows how to create and perform. As the founder of Amazon, Bezos provides a great role model for leaders in the arts.

Bezos has added another customer guru to his stable. This week, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, sent an email to inform the company, their customers, and the public of Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos. For Hsieh, this was less of a story of corporate acquisition, than of two like-minded customer-driven companies coming together for better service.

Following his appearance at the SXSW festival, we featured Tony Hsieh’s applicable wisdom: What the Arts Need to Learn from A Shoe Salesman.

Now, we have Jeff Bezos’ keys to audience success. In a video he made about the acquisition of Zappos, Bezos offers his keys to business growth. Each key provides a roadmap to the best way to grow an arts institution and develop our artists.

His first key is so self-evident he doesn’t even bother to mention it, let alone write it on his low-tech paper flip-chart. It is also, perhaps, the one most surprising to arts leaders: be humble. When Bezos starts his presentation, he tells us that he is going to tell us, “Everything I know. It’s a very short list. It won’t take long. It’s complete, too!” Imagine: An arts leader who does not boast about the difficulty of creation; or, brag about the complexity of the undertaking. This is a man who has built not only one of the most successful companies in our era, but one which is essential to the distribution of literature and the proliferation of readers. Bezos speaks easily, directly, and simply.

Bezos’ first flip-chart lesson: Obsess over your customers. For the arts, each facet of the audience experience has to perform as well as, if not better than, what takes place onstage. As Bezos notes, “if you are truly obsessed over customers, it will cover a lot of errors.”

Second flip: Invent. This is our speciality, right? But, how many forget to ask themselves for whom they are creating — themselves or for an audience (real or imagined)? Of course, as artists we can’t predict the audience’s reaction, but we can push ourselves to create for the customer’s benefit. After all, whether it’s dance, theatre, or music, we are telling a story — communicating something — to others, live. The story, the invention, thrives when the audience discovers how much they needed to receive it.

Third flip: Think Long Term. In the Bezos realm, this “requires and allows a willingness to be misunderstood.” As we seed, create, fundraise, and sell, this strategy keeps the focus on how to develop the art and the customer together.

Final flip: It’s Always Day One. For Bezos, there is “always more invention in the future, always more customer innovation, and new ways to obsess over customers.” Aren’t the best rehearsals and the best staff meetings where everyone comes together as though it’s day one, again? Day two is when everyone focuses only on their own tasks, their own solo part, their own little world. Day three is when everyone wants to identify a problem that must be someone else’s.

Always Day One… a recipe for creation.

- Bill Reichblum

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Vatican v. Art - Good v. Bad

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Photo by Anaxila — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

A life with complete clarity is nice, but is it good for art? The Vatican thinks so.

As posted in two stories this week in KadmusArts Culture News, the Vatican picked up a player from another team and provided an easy guide for the arts to get a good review.

In the first story, L’Osservatore Romano, the printed voice of the Vatican, praised the life and work — well, really the death — of Oscar Wilde. Yes, that Oscar Wilde, who converted to catholicism on his deathbed. Leaving aside his interpersonal relationships, the Vatican praised Wilde’s witticisms for understanding what was true and what was false. Wilde might have lived the life of a sinner, but apparently he’s okay now in the Vatican’s book, since he intuited the life of saints. As Joseph Heller wrote, “Go Figure.”

Isn’t that a bit like the joke of the old communist who refuses to acknowledge religion as he lay dying. He dies; opens his eyes; and sees a man with a long white beard waiting for him at the end of a long hallway. “Do you know who I am?”, asks the old man. “God?!?”, the frightened communist answers. “No, you idiot! Karl Marx!”

Still, anyone or any institution that lays claim to a great artist is fine by us. After all, if a new person gets turned on to Wilde’s writings because the Vatican says it’s okay, then by all means that’s good news. We have just picked up another audience member for great art.

The problem lies, though, in how the Vatican decides what is great art. In the second story posted from L’Osservatore Romano, the paper gave a thumbs-up review to the new Harry Potter film. Why? Because Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince shows a clear line between good and evil. Apparently this has not always been clear to L’Osservatore Romano in the other films, or in the original books. The bad guys might have been a bit too attractive for the audience. The critic’s lesson: if the art is about only doing good, then the review is going to be good as well. (I guess they didn’t pay much attention to where the teenage snogging is headed, with or without any magic wands.)

What turns some on to religion is that all the answers are there for the asking. What turns others off of religion is the same approach to clarity. Why do those guys have a monopoly on deciding what is good and what is bad?

We are not here for the religionists or their debaters. We are here for art and its instigators of artists and audiences. For the arts, there is nothing worse than the Vatican approach to evaluation, critique, and understanding.

Art loses an essential ingredient and opportunity when it provides the answers. Art needs to ask the questions. Take a moment and think of the dance, literature, music, poetry, theatre, and/or visual art that you consider to be in the category of “great art.” I am going to bet that the attraction to these works is not because they show an easy answer; rather, they reveal the complexity of life.

I am glad the Vatican has embraced Oscar Wilde and Harry Potter. That’s the good news. The bad news is on what terms. The twentieth century is full of examples of institutions and political parties that tried to negate art of complexity in favor of art of answers.

Or, as Oscar said, “A man who does not think for himself does not think at all.”

- Bill Reichblum

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Festival Celebration: 10,000 Stories

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Photo by Rob Watkins — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Why do we create art? Why do we go to festivals? Simple: when art and audiences come together we have the chance to learn something about ourselves, each other, our world, and our spirit. Coming together is a celebration of our shared journey.

Put another way: life can be hard and full of obstacles, so when you have the opportunity to celebrate something — you should celebrate!

As KadmusArts.com continues to expand to help serve festivals, artists, and audiences all over the world, we have a chance to celebrate something remarkable.

This week, we posted our 10,000th Culture News story!  Everyday, we bring you news stories about festivals, performances, technology’s intersection with the arts, and at least one story to make you smile.

The KadmusArts daily Culture News feature is just one of the free and open features on the website to help audiences find every festival in the world; to help artists connect to festivals; and, to help festivals promote their work.

All of these stories are archived, searchable, and accessible for updating. In other words, thanks to our users, KadmusArts is collecting a day by day picture of arts and culture all over the world.

To help celebrate we have introduced a new feature: a rolling Twitter feed on our home page, right next to the Culture News, so that you can see what’s happening in the festival world right now, 24/7.  No matter who is posting about festivals on Twitter, KadmusArts shows you in real time.

Did you also know that artists now have another new way of promoting their work on the site? Be sure to let every artist you know(!) take advantage of the Artist “Add Your Story” tool to spread the word, and to spread the art!

As long as we are celebrating, make sure that we are celebrating YOU: festivals, artists, fans, and adventurous cultural travelers. Do keep adding to KadmusArts.com to make sure the site has current dates, the latest festival and artist information, and new photos. And remember to share your digital interviews with the players. The more the festival community adds to the site, the better the festival community is served — and connected.

Every day, we receive emails thanking us for providing this online All Festival platform. We love getting those notes. As a small team in a small studio in a small state (Vermont), we grow large by your help in letting everyone you know learn about us. Thanks to our sponsors and daily users, KadmusArts.com has become the leading portal on the web for access to every dance, music and theatre festival in the world!

There’s another to reason to celebrate!

- Bill Reichblum

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The Real Michael Jackson Pusher

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Photo by Håkon H — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Old school journalists stumbled again this week, over culture and facts.

Usually news executives try to convince us that they alone know what qualifies as real news. When they appear to drop all of their pretentiousness and give us wall to wall coverage of pop culture, however, they use another argument to justify their ratings grab: this is what the people want.

We always knew this wasn’t the case. It has always been more about their greed for advertising dollars than it is about their care for their readers. Now, we have the facts.

As posted in KadmusArts’ Culture News this week, Jeff Jarvis gathered several facts about the Michael Jackson news coverage. Looking across the web, he showed a rather steep drop-off in web searches and blogs about Jackson a couple of days after his death was announced. In addition, video downloads of Jackson’s performances also dropped off. Just at the public’s interest waned, the news industry kicked into an all-out this-is-the-most-pressing-story-of-our-era coverage.

One conclusion: this isn’t what the people wanted; it’s what the news industry wanted. The industry insiders are not following a story, they are making a story.

Given Jarvis’ coverage, these old journos still do not understand their business model or us. Their audience dwindles everyday because we don’t look to them for bringing us what we don’t know — the news — let alone information leadership.

Sure it is fun to gloat at the irony: facts get in the way of their journalism. However, the deeper story here is the lack of cultural reporting that could help to enlighten their readers and information consumers.

In the culture biz, we are always aware of the inherent tension between the “give ‘em what they want” and the “lead a community” balancing act. Plato and Aristotle knew the tension well: entertain vs. enlighten.

Even more than the culture biz, the news biz succeeds when it follows the enlightenment school of audience interaction. In fact, given our information ready existence today, bringing education and experience to enlighten us is the only reason for the news biz to exist.

Here was another opportunity for the news biz to better understand its audience. They could even have used the culture biz’s measurement of success: attract new audiences.

Michael Jackson was an incredible artist, who knew how to sell music and how to sell-out live performances. The culture biz will learn a lot from Michael Jackson’s talent and career.

I wonder what the news biz will learn?

- Bill Reichblum

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