Roaring with Pride: Former TBA Intern Elena Muslar on Meaningful Outreach to Diverse Audiences
Friday, April 25, 2014
At Theatre Bay Area, we love all of our interns equally. Of course. But some, when they conclude their internship, cause us to cry just a little—both because of how proud we are of them, and because we'll miss their proactivity, preparedness and professionalism so very much. Elena Muslar, the author of this piece, is one of those. We're proud to reprint her recent blog post from the Americans for the Arts ArtsBlog Emerging Arts Leader Salon. Now, please excuse us...where were those tissues again? ...sniffle...
Reading Between the Lines: Crossing the Generational Barriers of Ethnic and Cultural Audience Development
By Elena Muslar
"We have got to diversify our audiences!" How many times can you recall hearing this phrase in meeting after meeting? And yes, of course, the mantra still rings true. But, what are the ways in which target marketing campaigns reach out to those diverse audiences?
"It's Black History Month! Let's offer a special on tickets to A Raisin in the Sun! "The Latin show is coming to town; let's advertise our banners along the streets of East L.A." I could go on, but now is not the time to dwell on past mechanisms of "outreach" done with fairly good intentions. This is the time to go beyond talking about these kinds of basic ideals of promotion and start changing our values towards active relations. It's the time to chart the future and put models into play that not only shift, but flip, the paradigms set in place that don't currently reflect expanding communities meant to be served by arts organizations.
As a young woman of mixed race, being half-Black/half-Belizean, I am a product of a community that was just "out of reach"; that desperately needed the "out-reaching." When more criminals cross the threshold of your apartment complex than high school graduates, you learn early on that you have to be strong enough to stretch your reach further when that reach from the other side doesn't make it far enough. As a "Next Gen" arts leader, this has been a huge inspiration for me to have a voice that extends beyond my community and into those buildings laden with white walls. I see myself as a bridge between worlds and am committed to paving roads that provide better access to communities resembling mine.
In connecting with communities of varying ethnic backgrounds, organizations must realize simplistic ways of thinking will not fly when it comes to garnering visible results. The days of merely displaying promotional materials in certain demographic areas to reach people of color are over. Inserting points of engagement at different generational levels unique to various cultures is how detailed this idea of "outreach" needs to get. We must stretch out of our comfort zone of lumping all persons of a certain ethnic background together. It is necessary in order to create a ripple effect of engagement that crosses throughout numerous demographics.
Developing engaging relationships with young persons of color is very different from fostering relationships with their parents, just as much as it differs in building relationships with their grandparents. We need to start thinking about the targets within our target markets. As arts leaders, it is up to us to recognize and welcome the unique attributes that everyone can bring to the table. In my frame of thinking, leadership does not lend itself to walking ahead of the community you want to lead. It provides opportunities to walk deeply within that community, learn and understand their points of reference, and absorb those values as representative of your own. Putting forth this kind of commitment for artistic engagement can support your organization's drive to better work within communities rather than on the outside of them looking in.
During the last three years of my emergence as a "Next Gen" arts leader, I made it a goal to not only obtain higher education in the field, but to gain outside work experience in order to focus my personal mission as an arts manager/administrator. So, while acquiring my MFA in Theatre Management (specializing in Producing) from CalArts, I recently had four work experiences that have allowed me to recognize different ways in which diverse engagement needs to and can be nurtured:
• Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles: Priority Services Representative
I sold subscriptions on a daily basis. In communicating particularly with patrons of color, I had to make sure I spoke clearly and directly with those older, but be more enthusiastic and relatable to connect with those younger. I found that older patrons of color were more apt to engage in shows that chronicle a cultural experience, whereas younger ones were more open to things across the spectrum. The biggest takeaway I learned was in order to fully engage, I had to regularly reiterate that there was a point to my call and a reason for them, specifically, to engage with our theatre.
• Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco: Performing Arts Department Intern
Working within the brainchild of Marc Bamuthi Joseph's Creative Ecosystems, I learned the power in facilitating participatory think tanks. Utilizing this form to instigate collaboration and conversation across disciplines, cultures, and generations was eye-opening.
• Los Angeles County Arts Commission (current position): Grants and Professional Development Assistant
At an offsite professional development event I worked, I realized the interactive skill it takes as a person of color to be able to translate between the vernacular of community members and the language of professional arts administrators/organizations.
• The World Stage, Leimert Park (Los Angeles): Volunteer Marketing Consultant
I currently navigate the waters of respecting the elders of my culture that run the organization while introducing them to new and more efficient ways of producing results. Knowing that each generation has a voice and allowing these voices to communicate effectively in the best interests of the organization's growth and sustainability is a large part of what I have been facilitating and am focusing on expanding.
Therein lay some suggestions in "reaching the unreachable." Consistently throughout my career trajectory, I have been the youngest and many times the only person of color in the room. Standing now MFA-bound at age 24, young as I may be, I see clearly. In looking to activate audiences of diverse backgrounds, a little more effort must be put into enhancing systemic approaches by emphasizing the need to reiterate, instigate, translate, and navigate. My personal mission is to be a force in producing environments that embrace people from all walks of life into the joy that creativity can bring. Thus, my current goal is to be a part of finishing this conversation surrounding diverse audience outreach and a part of starting some action towards concentrated community engagement. As an emerging arts leader, I realize my place in being a "Next Gen" but I believe that it's time for the "Next Gen" to become the "Now Gen."
Elena Muslar is a former Theatre Bay Area intern. She currently serves the Los Angeles County Arts Commission as grants and professional development assistant.