Marketing the Arts in DC

newsboyI just had a really good meeting with Amy Melrose. She is the proprietor of the Free in DC blog, which lists hundreds of free arts and culture events in DC each month. You can see her blog here.

We’re gonna do some cross-marketing between Bourgeon and Free in DC. I know this will be good for both of us. I’m hoping that she might also come on as an editor/acquisition editor for Bourgeon, but I don’t know if she wants to.

We talked about how we are doing similar things in a way – providing information about upcoming arts events – but that there is no need for us to be competitive. There are a number of really great people doing great stuff out there right now, including:

Ayo/Eric/Adrian and Dissident Display
Day Eight and Bourgeon
Betsy and DCShotlist
Todd and
Amy and FreeinDC
Philipa and Pinkline

And that is a very impartial list (off the top of my head.) If I’ve missed you please message or comment and I’ll add to it. Of course there are also the larger sites, including:

Culture Capital and CityPaper for arts listings.

Just like arts education, there are lots of ways for people to get the service. There’s no need for competition amongst us. In fact, if we found ways to work together, we would serve our communities better, and probably get better return for ourselves.

Amy and I were talking about how the DC Commission doesn’t directly fund arts marketing. I was saying that is not exactly true, because they do fund arts service organizations, many of whom spend a lot of their time and budgets marketing the arts. But for smaller folks, she is right: the DCCAH doesn’t fund arts marketing. She said she thought that should change, and I disagreed. I think that artists are best being funded at a level where they can spend the time and money to market themselves. The organizations can already do this, and for individual artists, you can always list events in many places, try and get traditional press coverage, and get coverage from any of the places I noted above. I know that Bourgeon is happy to publish an article by any artist promoting their work.

ME-BarryTaxThe city and other funders have to have priorities in funding. If Marion Barry taught us anything it’s that just cause you’re popular doesn’t mean you’re spending the city’s money well. The mayor for life won election several times even while driving the city into receivership and leading the schools into a nosedive of failure (or rather, failing to lead them into the flight of success.) There’s no parallel there to the city’s DCCAH – currently or in the past. But I think the city’s arts budget should go to the arts, not arts marketing.

I have to add that I don’t think Bourgeon is arts marketing. Non-profit journalism, including non-profit arts journalism, is not marketing. But that is a post for another day….

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.

One thought on “Marketing the Arts in DC”

  1. Thanks for the props and link to my site Rob. It was great chatting with you about what we do, why we do it, etc… I was interested in our conversation because I know that you and I are both looking to find ways to bring in financial support for the work that we do without needing to resort to putting up web ads. The issue that I have run into with art grants and grants in general is that because I am an individual and not an organization and because I am a blogger and not an artist working in one of the qualified mediums listed on the applications, I seem to be in no mans land. My project doesn’t qualify for any significant amount of funding because it is doesn’t fit neatly into a box that exists in the grant world.

    I consider my blog to be a public service. I do it because I want to and because I am passionate about it, similar to the way an artist is moved and feels compelled to create. This is my project. My art is in my words, the organization and distillation of information into a clear and easy to understand message that is accessible to all online. It is an offering and a reflection of who I am and what I believe in. Ideally, others would recognize that and sponsor, fund or donate to my site. I am working on this now that I have the html figured out to make logos clickable on my site. Figured out what to charge for sponsorship may pose an additional challenge since I am not sure who to ask or where to look for the standard rates based on the number of visitors that I have per day or how to formulate this, but I will have to start somewhere and go from there.

    My main comment is that there seems to be a lag in recognizing the “art of…” running a website or blog that is arts related as something worthy of grant money. Online “new media” informational sites such as ours fill a need in the art world and give a larger voice to the artists and the creative world. By connecting everyday people who use the internet with artists and creative types (who are mostly busy creating art and not busy letting people know about what they are doing) we are helping to promote the arts and emerging artists who may not have access to more traditional forms of press. Most artists I know tend to be a bit introverted and are not that great at self promotion or simply feel awkward doing it. I believe that the websites that we have help them, however we don’t qualify for direct funding for marketing, the individual artists and art organizations do. In your case Rob, as a dancer and a 501c3 you have more options than I do but your site Bourgeon is also in a bit of no mans land as you have artists writing about their art but you are not asking them to pay anything for that so in essence, it is a service you provide for free to both the readers and the authors.

    In my case, my site is mostly a “DC is so much more than politics and lobbying” and “you don’t need to spend a lot to live a rich life in this town” kind of site that covers much more than just the arts. I don’t believe that the city itself has a marketing outreach promotion budget grant that I am eligible for either, though perhaps I should go down there and try to have a chat with someone. I am planning to apply for the small projects grant from the DCCAH and have already met with them. They have been very nice and I am definitely planning to ask for their help in making sure that I fill out the paperwork correctly as I am not much of a technical writer. The grant will be to fund my service which is not really a product even though the site itself is I suppose. Most funded projects are product related and I won’t have many receipts I can copy except for promotional materials and business cards that I would like to create and the cost of a friend’s design work for those. I want to be sure I am filling out the paperwork correctly and able to list my time as administrative and arts marketing. I definitely think that it would be a good idea for me to have someone that can help me out, so I should set another appointment there soon and get started on the process.

    Another thing I am planning to do soon is to add a tip jar through paypal, similar to the one you have up on your site Rob, and ask people to tip me similar to what you would tip a cab driver, a door man or a bartender, a few bucks per reader would be great. Monthly tips of 5-10 bucks for regular readers would be great of course and add up to help compensate me for my time and work involved in maintaining the site. I also want to let those who I promote know that I am providing a service and that they can tip me if they feel inclined to. Every little bit helps and it will add up. I don’t think people should have to tip me but it would be really nice if they did and the truth is that if I don’t ask, no one will. I believe in the give as you are able to idea. So, Free in DC will soon be donation based. Please tip what you can. I think I’ll add that to my tagline at the top somewhere.

    It is important for me to maintain the integrity of the site which is all about not needing to spend a lot, putting your money into people, places and causes that you do believe when you do spend money, and supporting the local community. This is one of the main reasons I don’t want to put up google ads, blinky ads, or click through ads. Not to mention that they are usually distracting, add a feeling of clutter to the space energetically and are often loud and unattractive. All of those things do not reflect me, my aesthetics or my values so I have chosen to seek out other alternatives. My vision is to keep it personal and local and to be able to continue supporting the things that I think make this city great. I want to continue promoting the arts and events that are related to healing and awareness, education and creativity, green living and consciousness. I also want to help non-profits to promote their events. It would be great to have people in turn support that vision back to me by supporting “Free in DC” in whatever way they can.

    So, part of what I realize in thinking about and writing this is that I need to start asking. I need to ask for sponsors, ask for funding, ask for tips and make it easy for people to do that with a click. I need to just jump in and figure it out as I go. I can’t really rely on grants, though it did occur to me that I may be able to be “tacked on” to an arts organization in their marketing proposal somehow and have that passed on to me by becoming a sponsor of my site. That of course would be great so I should look into that as well.

    So, that is my basic overview of what I have been thinking about. I believe that the work that you and I do Rob is important, even if it is unpaid at the moment. I believe that if we keep doing it people will recognize the unique intersection that exists in the service that we provide and somehow we will be able to find creative ways to find financial backing that compensates us for our time and our vision. That is what we creative minds do… we take risks and believe in our work and we find ways to make it work. Of course, this means that we still have work to do to make it work. Speaking of which, I should go look at the link to that online tip jar you sent me now and try to put that up! It’s nice at least to know that you are not alone. I am glad we are trying to help and support each other. It is great to have someone to talk to who can understand a bit of where you stand and how that feels and I appreciate your willingness to share and discuss ways that we can try to make things work better.

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