On My Mind: What Press Is Good Press?

My most recent blog posts have been about homebuying and affordability. It’s a topic I find deeply interesting, but it also provides a change of pace from the in-depth—and often intense—conversations about art and activism happening daily over at SOMArts. Writing requires time for reflection, and this fall instead of reflecting on and writing about art I chose to spend my post-work hours running, learning guitar and seeing art in other spaces. No regrets!

This week, however, I am back to writing about art as part of the inaugural Animating Democracy Blog Salon of Americans for the Arts. It’s an impressive cohort and I am learning a lot. A particular favorite is Every Museum Needs A Community Organizer by Damon Rich, an artist who transformed several galleries of the Queens Museum of Art into a place to explore how our society pays for housing, how the system has broken down, and the arguments over fixing it.

Last week I had lunch with a friend who asked me “what type of publicity do you hope for at SOMArts?” and it occurred to me that my answer has changed over the past few years. When I worked for producing and presenting performance organizations a few years ago, it was essential to get featured listings and reviews in prestige publications (such as the biggest local newspaper).

Nowadays it is still important to get listed, but I care much more about the quality of the writing and much less about where it is published. We May Be Hotter Than We Know, Hugo Schwyzer’s thoughtful analysis of the exhibit Man As Object: Reversing the Gaze, was published on a website unfamiliar to me, but as of this morning it had 1,088 shares on Facebook. A listing on Remezcla drove more traffic to our website for Illuminations: Dia de los Muertos than a similar listing on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website.

Something different about publicity now, compared to five years ago, is that you can see the dialogue. In the past if your theater got a review in The New York Times you were sure people were talking about it, but you didn’t know who or where. Now, you can see who is responding and how. For my personal work and practice, that means that paying attention to community-based blogs and publications pays off … in attendance and in mission-friendly dialogue about cultural understanding and appreciation.

Maybe I am stating what’s obvious to everyone else, but my personal experience is that boards and executive directors (and even staff) fall into assumptions about what press “matters” and who is participating online. I’m looking forward to the rest of the Animating Democracy Blog Salon and hope it will illuminate and challenge some of my own assumptions.

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