BtBA Day 2

After a very long Day 1 and living the whole New York experience including the launch party of a theatre group’s new season in the Bowery area and late night drinks at a bar I will never remember, I gingerly entered the second day of the BtBA Program.

The focus was very much about Manhattan, meeting with NYC Department of City Planning who have the responsibility for the 125th Street (main street Harlem) redevelopment, discussing the Diversity & Inclusion activities of The Broadway League, having challenging discussion around what diversity marketing is with the Director of Marketing at the Alvin Alley American Dance Theatre and finally being mesmerised by Donna Williams the Mets Chief Audience Development Officer detailing her Multicultural Audience Development Initiative.

As expected the themes of Day 1 were revisited today and will form the board insight areas I will continue to write about. I will leave the issue of private philanthropy but will focus on the areas of what makes up diversity and how it influences arts marketing, especially in the more difficult area of multicultural audience development.

Yesterday’s blog started talking about the predominant diversity narrative I have been encountering. What became clearer today was the difficulty in equating the America sensibility and construction of diversity with the more articulated and finely graded multicultural narrative in Australia.

The practical impact of this is to challenge me and my assumption that I would be picking up the answers here. The difficulty with comparison and immediate transference of skills, approaches and narrative can be explained by the following:

  • The predominant diversity narrative is really about biculturalism as the consistent frame being used by senior marketing and HR people was almost exclusively about African Americans v Caucasians;
  • Native Americans and their place in this diversity picture was hardly referenced and when it was, it was as a low level category ranked below the more populous identifiable diversities such as Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans;
  • Languages other than English are heard but not necessarily seen as legitimate communication languages because “they all speak English”. This is challenging because it reduces cultural diversity to English language proficiency which is anomalous to the cultural framing used for African Americans.

In discussions about the future of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and its mission to reflect modern America I posed the question, “In your marketing why don’t you use LOTE media?” The answer was a familiar refrain I have heard hundreds of times “Because in America most people speak English as well as their native language and we cannot not justify the cost of this media”. I felt a despondency as I looked around an office and a building that spoke not only money but large amounts of money.

  • Cultural groups are at best aggregations and fall into a rough order of African Americans, Hispanic Americans (aka Latinos), Asian Americans, and fast growing and ‘wealthy’ South Asian group and then we get to Native Americans and American Muslims;
  • Multilingualism is not the norm in the diversity engagement process. I only saw one example of a bilingual pamphlet in English and Spanish to support the engagement process for the 125th Street Redevelopment.

To say I was feeling challenged by all this is an understatement. Wasn’t I here to learn from the world capital of diversity, ‘The world is New York”, why did I feel I was reliving all those fruitless discussions with arts organisations over the last 30 years who just didn’t get cultural diversity and then there was Donna Williams. Over 18 years she has transformed the Metropolitan Museum of Arts into what I would argue is one of the world’s leading exponents of multicultural marketing. Donna spoke my language which distinguishes Korean from Asian, Indian from South Asian. She identified and legitimised the use of ethnic media and in-language advertising. She delivers a model based on engagement and collaboration and has been able to demonstrate the economic return on the Met’s investment in her team’s work.

The real beauty of this was to take this same diversity model and apply to other non-ethnically defined diversities such as the LGBTIQ community and college students.

I left the Met tired but somewhat relived and proceeded to walk back through Central Park to the hotel.

Along the way I realised that I had spent the last two days in New York in meeting rooms and Board rooms talking and touring facilities. I looked around and was in Times Square and had a WTF moment. I needed to see something, be excited and be taken away. On the spur of the moment I and my fellow traveller Philip went to the door of Barrymore Theatre and with 4 minutes to spare purchased tickets for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”.

Maybe it was the tiredness, maybe being slightly hung over or my challenged mental state, who cares? I had a theatre experience I will long remember. The production was extraordinary, the acting brilliant, the accents correct the emotion high. I ended the play in tears both from joy at the experience and the deep challenging content of the play.

I am now in New York

Pino Migliorino