Six Things the Arts and the Republicans Have in Common

Been thinking a lot about the arts and politics lately and couldn’t help noticing some striking resemblances between the cultural community and the Republican party:

Losses

Both the Republicans and the arts are losing their audiences. It’s a well-established fact in the arts, and an emerging trend in politics where the Republicans’ older, homogeneous, conservative base is shrinking while the Democrats’ youthful, multi-cultural coalition is growing.

Conservative Wings

Both the arts and the Republicans have influential factions of long-time donors/supporters who resist change and who use their influence to maintain the status quo – even when it means alienating potential new audiences.

Out of Touch Leadership

Both are run by leaders who have severely limited personal connections to tomorrow’s audiences/voters.

Exclusionary Platforms

Both promote ideologies that divide the world – either explicitly or implicitly – into the welcome and the unwelcome.

Overemphasis on Fundraising

The Republicans’ fixation on opening doors to unlimited giving resulted in the most expensive campaign in history, yet no amount of money could compensate for their inability to appeal to a large enough audience.

Old White People

Since 8 PM on election night pundits have been discussing the erosion of “demographic” support for the traditional Republican party. While Democrats appealed to a broad, diverse coalition that looked like America (check out the audience for Obama’s victory speech), Republicans hammered the base in hopes of squeezing more die-hard supporters out of its shrinking demo.

The irony, of course, is that the arts are populated mostly by progressives who lean toward Democratic values, but when it comes to making our case to the world about our worth, relevance and ability to lead, we’re Republicans through and through.

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UPDATE on Dec. 5:  I wrote this glib little post a few days after the election. It was a throw-away meant to fill space between more thoughtful essays, but it went viral and has become by far the most widely read post on this blog. Normally I write about strategic communications failures in the arts: How our amateur approach to marketing is contributing to declining audiences, and what we can do to turn things around.

Feel free to visit my home page and browse from there. And if you like what you read, try my book – a brief, fun, irreverent take on the sorry state of arts marketing, and a serious set of recommendations for increasing earned revenue.

Thanks for visiting.

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3 thoughts on “Six Things the Arts and the Republicans Have in Common

  1. Interesting idea… I do have to disagree with the “overemphasis on fundraising”. I think that may depend on how fundraising is defined. If you mean programming to your funders, that’s a problem. If you mean inviting any and everyone in to support the work, that’s another.

    Good fundraising in inclusive, not exclusive. And every nonprofit organization should behave as if every person on the staff and board are fundraisers. Every touch with every person in the community (however broadly that’s defined) is an opportunity to strengthen and broaden the organization. That’s what good fundraising does.

  2. Perhaps more threatening than all of these is the confusion of wishful, “go with your gut” decision making with strategic planning and thinking. The Republican’s rejection of empiricism underlies much of their failure to understand and respond appropriately to new information and a changing world.

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