Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “The buy-in period is critical but then the issue is how do you ramp up? We try to attract people with a weekly push [via an email newsletter]. Also, we make sure people have to go to our site to get news and information, for instance, the Knight/NEA Community Arts Challenge. So our solution is both pushing out and having special events that can be accessed only through the site.”
Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “We require every grantee to post at least once a month on our site. That’s a requirement of the grant agreement. It gives us content but also allows us to drive traffic to the site.”
Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media, Journal Register Co., Yardley, Pa.: “I’d get people who are already engaged, who are already depressing keys. If they are already telling their story in some fashion, you want to give them a broader voice. You can give them more bang for the buck.”
What incentives can we offer to attract more reader interest?
Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “There’s the Daily Deal phenomenon. It’s pretty powerful, and it’s starting to migrate over to the non-profits. It might be one way to encourage traffic on a site.”
What are some effective examples of community engagement?
Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “We created the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, in which we entered into a contest with the NEA. The project was centered in eight communities, Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, Philadelphia, St. Paul, San Jose. We got 233 fleshed-out proposals, and the quality of what we got was extraordinary. We took five of the ideas and are now implementing them.”
Steve Buttry, director of community engagement and social media, Journal Register Co., Yardley, Pa.: “We’ve had success with a program called Friday Night Tweets [which involves reader feedback at sports events]. Maybe they could live tweet a rehearsal, or an opening at an art gallery. Or you might encourage someone from the group sitting in the lighting booth or the back row to create a running review [via tweets].”
Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “The spot.us model fascinates me — especially if you can solve the conflict-of-interest issues. We think we’ve solved it by keeping the maximum dollar amount of contributions low. People want to think that they have a direct line to an arts organization. They don’t want to drop a contribution into a gaping maw. So spot.us has more traction than what you would think.”
How can traditional media cope with the crisis in arts coverage?
Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “Actually, there’s more arts coverage than ever but it’s not landing on legacy media sources, and it’s not being done by traditional sources. The question is, how do you sift through that content and make it matter?”
Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts, the Knight Foundation, Miami: “We are trying a bunch of things because we can’t train journalists for jobs that aren’t going to be there. Most of these projects are going to fail, but one or two are going to stick, and then we can propagate them out to the rest of America.”
Chad Bauman, director of communication, Arena Stage, Washington, D.C.: “I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think anybody has figured this out.”
After looking at local and national arts sites, and examining situations and responses in our own cities (Cleveland, Chicago and Newark), we realized that we needed to jump-start the design and operations of the site on the blocks. Furthermore, we needed to go back to the very idea of community, as it is used in the concept of “community theater.” Group interviews via Skype with a “digital community engagement” pioneer and a communications chief for a major regional theater company helped reinforce our ideas about how community could and should be at the site’s center, and also how the site could be a template for other artforms and other cities/regions.
As with so many of the arts, theater has its roots in communities. But segregating community theater from other arts can be seen demeaning. That’s especially the case now that large, major arts groups — theaters as well as orchestras, opera and dance companies, and museums — recognize that community work is essential to their missions and their futures of the art forms they present, exhibit and promote. As Walt Whitman observed 140 years ago, community arts groups are building blocks, “the main thing being the average, the bodily, the concrete, the democratic, the popular, on which all the superstructures of the future are to permanently rest.”
So with help of a young web expert, we combined the contemporary concept of the Internet and social networking with Walt Whitman’s historic and philosophical idea of the community to make the community itself the hub of the retooled site. Conversation is a driver, not just a comments-section button.
Content does not rank a neighborhood or community troupe below a community presentation or activity by one of Cleveland’s many established professional companies. Children’s theater is seen as a basis and a magnet for theater education and audience development. The retooled site provides a single home for theater attendees, supporters, and presenters. Directors of local area troupes, many of which are themselves institutions, are connected with the education, community, and artistic leaders of downtown and monetarily established companies. Connections with local weblogs, and encouragement of new ones, can boost a critical community and conversation.
Additionally, we incorporate the American senses of Lincoln’s “mystic chords of memory” by inviting and tapping into individual and family recollections — visual, oral and written — of area productions, seen, acted and played in. We also heed Whitman’s reminder that we always need to see broad vistas as we ask site users about how they might extend local legacies into a democratic, community-centered, and increasingly vibrant theater web in Cleveland and northeast Ohio.]]>
I developed the Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com/Sun Newspapers’ Community Theater website as an exercise in community engagement — a way for a legacy media company with a great tradition of arts coverage to try a different, hyper-local online model. It seemed like a simple proposition to me: Build a site, funnel our content into it and ask the theaters to feed it as well. But I really didn’t understand what engagement meant — or the complexities in effectively implementing the concept — until we began to explore the issue in the Engine 29 lab.
For me, the great lesson of the week is to stop thinking of content as a commodity to be peddled but rather as a meal to be shared. The tools to do the cooking — smart Web design, new storytelling techniques, the creative use of social media and audience engagement initiatives — are really just meant to get everyone at the same table.
I’m thrilled and encouraged by the two re-imagined websites you see here — and with all of the other amazing and innovative Engine29 projects. There’s a lot of grief in journalism today because of losses we have experienced in legacy media, particularly in coverage of the arts. But it’s difficult to stay sad and despairing in midst of such a blast of creativity.]]>
The goal was reach out to a very passionate niche in the Cleveland arts community and work with them to create a high-profile portal through which people could access news, reviews, event listings, audition notices, photos, videos, educational material and other content.
We want the site to be an experience in which theaters and audiences can participate and contribute. The idea is to expand the concept to other areas of the arts such as visual arts and popular music. The theaters were very excited about participating in the project, but since its launch their engagement has been hit and miss.]]>