Book Review: Invitation to the Party

Posted by: Lindsey Hardegree on Aug 25 2010 / Comments (0)

Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community, by Donna Walker-Kuhne, is probably my all time favorite arts management book.  I first encountered this book near the beginning of my graduate studies in the Performing Arts Management program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and it has profoundly influenced my views on audience development since then.

Walker-Kuhne’s approach is a bit broader than it appears on first glance.  One of my favorite quotations is found on page 22 when she says that we must “talk to our potential audience, hear what they have to say, and incorporate their ideas into the work of our institutions. Rather than project what we think other people need or want, or project out intentions onto the behavior of others . . . we need to understand them as individuals.”

I’ve never heard a clearer case for online relationship building, a subject matter that Walker-Kuhne doesn’t approach  at all in her book (probably because it was published in 2005 and new media, like social media and blogging, wasn’t a game-changer yet).  However, Walker-Kuhne’s strategy is so universal and approachable that the entire book can be translated for use in online relationship building.  For example:

The first step that Walker-Kuhne mentions in the previous quotation is talking to our potential audience.  New media is quickly becoming the universal method for communication across all demographic groups in the United States.  New media defies age, gender, socio-economic status, race . . . it’s EVERYWHERE!  Chances are that whoever your potential audience is, they’re likely online.

Next we must hear what they have to say.  In order to hear this, we must provide our potential audience with an outlet for them to tell us.  By building relationships where your potential audience congregates, you create a sense of trust and camaraderie that lends itself to open communication.  Websites utilizing BuddyPress features, Facebook chatter, @replies on Twitter – it’s all too easy to communicate with our potential audience online.

Finally, we must incorporate their ideas into our work.  By programming in a way that will attract and retain your potential audience (without alienating your current audience), all you’ll need to do is build the relationships with the right people, and then let them know what’s happening at your organization.  This doesn’t mean completely changing your work – it could be as simple as adding a cocktail reception for young professionals before one of your shows (and promoting it on Facebook), or offering free acting workshops after your children’s matinee for kids (and emailing all the local mommy bloggers).

Walker-Kuhne’s book primarily focuses on audience development with a focus on expanding the racial profile of the audiences of specific organizations.  She provides ten (fantastic) tools for building audiences, then provides a brief case study of how she used these tools at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Public Theater, and with shows like Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk and Harlem Song.  The key to reading this book is to absorb the strategies and apply them to your own organization’s needs.

Disclosure: If you like this book review, there’s a chance you’ll buy this book.  And since we’re online, you can’t take me out to coffee to say thanks for the recommendation.  So I’ve used my Amazon affiliate link in this blog post, and I’ll get a little kickback if you do buy this book – think of it as Amazon’s way of saying thanks for you!

Leave a Reply