Doug McLennan provokes a rather central question in his blog post this week: are arts organizations in the business of selling tickets? Says he:

If you believe your business model is the classic consumer transaction (I make the performance, you buy the ticket) then you’re done. Sorry.

He goes on to suggest that arts organizations are providing a much more complex service than a play or a performance or an exhibition, and that arts consumers are seeking a complex bundle of goods in their purchase decisions.

People aren’t comparing you with other orchestras or theatre or dance companies; they’re measuring whether classical music or theatre or dance is something they want to choose at the moment. They’re deciding whether they want an active or passive experience; they’re trying to determine what level of social encounter they feel like today. They’re weighing whether they want a predictable, known, comfortable quantity or whether they want to be adventurous and try something new.

His provocation is right on the mark, and central to any thoughtful discussion of the future of arts enterprise and cultural management. But I’d suggest that it’s missing an important wrinkle.

The deeper challenge for arts organizations is that they DO sell a product, even as they DON’T. That is, an important segment of any arts audience doesn’t recognize the complex bundle they’re seeking when they buy a symphony or theater ticket. They’ve come to use that event as a placeholder or proxy for that bundle, without even knowing it. To this core group (often the most passionate about the art form, the most loyal buyers, the most committed donors) the bundle IS the product. And as you innovate around the delivery or context of your creative work, you challenge their passionate connection to the discipline’s tradition.


Andrew Taylor
The Artful Manager