Summer is a busy time filled with camps, concerts, festivals, and more, and it’s right around the corner! With students out of school and families seeking opportunities to engage in Montgomery County’s cultural happenings, summer can also lead to an uptick in attendance. Take this great opportunity to get a snap shot of your audience by holding a focus group, hosting a talk-back or meet the artist reception, or conducting a survey to ascertain who you are engaging, what attracts them to your organization, and why they attended your event! As noted in Americans for the Arts’ blog Audience Engagement is NOT Community Engagement, these kinds of audience engagement strategies are designed to deepen relationships with your current stakeholders and over time, improve retention, increase frequency of attendance and expand reach through stakeholder networks.
Knowing your current audience will also tell you who in your community is not engaged; providing you an opportunity to develop outreach and community engagement strategies to expand your reach. Remember audience engagement is not community engagement, and according to Arts Engaged, “community engagement is important to the long-term viability of arts organizations and to the well-being of the communities they serve.” This statement aligns with Montgomery County’s current reality, mirroring our rich, diverse, and ever-changing population. As the county’s demographics continue to shift, our arts and culture community must adapt to these changes in order to remain relevant and connected with the communities we aim to serve.
Effective community engagement begins by building relationships. Before designing programs based on what we think our community wants, begin with the simple and slow process of learning about the community you are targeting. Listen to the people, involve them in the planning process, and address the issues they tell you are most important to them. Arts Engaged believes that “in successful engagement work no change should happen quickly…” and AHCMC agrees. Building authentic relationships takes time, but the value of this work can make your organization an indispensable pillar of your community’s framework. Check out Create Community Connections: Embarking on Community Engagement for some ideas to help kick-start this process.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with this thought. Words Matter. Think about how you are giving voice to your community. As we work to reflect the diversity of Montgomery County, let us practice creative placekeeping: the active care and maintenance of a place and its social fabric by the people who founded, live and work there. This mindset values the cultural memories associated with a locale by supporting and honoring those that came before. Much like the American Museum of Natural History engaged audiences by asking them to reconsider the historical inaccuracies and stereotypes perpetuated in a diorama designed to shape the American public’s understanding of Indigenous people, let us also find ways to positively and accurately uplift the various cultures represented in our county. I’m excited to work collaboratively with you as we engage and empower Montgomery County’s arts and humanities sector this summer and well into the future.