Back in June, Minneapolis arts critic Lightsey Darst wrote a 3-part series for the Huffington Post about dance as the poorest art form. Her conclusion? “If dancers did not sometimes sleep with rich people, American dance as we know it would cease to exist.” So, not too optimistic (unless you know a lot people with money that you want to sleep with).
Choreographer and speaker Jennifer Edwards crafted her own response to Lightsey for the Huffington Post. It made my ears perk up right away (you really should go read it yourself). In a nutshell, she criticizes dancers for undervaluing their work, choosing poor marketing models, and encouraging a barrier between audience and creator. Edwards asks the question that’s been on my mind for awhile: can dancers be more like entrepreneurs?
How do artists share and dialogue about what we’re doing and why it’s important? How can artists share and leverage their brand?
Whenever I hear ‘brand’, I think about toothpaste commercials, so it makes sense that artists want to focus on making their art, and not sharing their brand. Like it or not, the two are inseparable. Think of your favorite artist (a couple I love: Twin Cities locals Mad King Thomas, not-so-local Lady Gaga). Start thinking about their work. More than likely, it’s impossible to separate the work from the person making it– their story, their desires, their intentions; the two are totally intertwined.
I like this definition of ‘brand’ from Elizabeth Talerman:
Luckily, the internet has given us dozens of ways to capture and share our brand with audiences. Musicians are making youtube videos to talk about their songs, visual artists are instagramming, and Gallim Dance blogs about creative process. Illustrators Lisa Congdon and Kate Bingaman Burt provide some of the best examples I’ve seen of using blogs to share their work and aesthetic.
So, how can you go about sharing your brand?
Figure out what distinguishes you and your work. Use this to talk about your work (with audiences, on your website), and to find your audience (if you target audience is ‘people who like dance’, challenge yourself to take this further). Lean into the things that set you apart. Tell your story, and make it personal.
Dialogue. Engage in conversation about the work and your motivations for making the work. Don’t limit this conversation to artists, or people you think ‘get it’.
Micro-share. Whether through video, a photo, or 140 characters, find a way to share your process.
Teach. Not everyone is going to get why your work is valuable. It took Laura Brown explaining the details of screen printing for me to appreciate the time and detail that goes into one of her prints.
Write like a person. I read a lot of bios, and I usually stop reading by the second line. They usually sound formal and forced– something great for a grant committee, but alienating to an audience. Knowing that your work was performed in six countries and that you won two grants tells me so little about YOU (see #1). How can you make your descriptions of your work (and your story) feel personal?
In Edwards’ own words: “Dance is no different from any other industry — we must innovate or we will fade away.” Artists are some of the most creative people I know. So, how can we get creative with connecting our work with new audiences?
How do you share the story of your art with your audience?