I read a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald online about how our Aussie friends are leading the arts world in use of social media. (Yes, they are even further ahead that we in the United States.) The article is very informative, and had me thinking of all sorts of possibilities just within the small cirlce of community theatres of which I am familiar.
As an actor, I can't say I approve of the idea of letting audience members tweet during the actual performance. (Though I applaud the patron for seeking official permission to do so.) The idea behind the practice is however, a solid one; if arts organizations such as theatre companies and galleries begin to embrace the proper use of social media, they increase the chance of drawing in those people on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler) who are not otherwise engaged in the arts.
I think those of us that participate in the arts have to resist the temptation to build fortresses around what we do. As an actor I know and respect the 4th wall during a show, and we can't have people running in and out of the National Gallery of Art without rules and regulations to protect the treasures therein. But I think we sometimes take the notion too far, and the arts end up being something placed upon a pedestal, to be patronized by the intellectual elite and the financially well-off.
In the end, the arts experience should be the exact opposite. It should be the property of and resource to the entire community in which it resides, if not all people, everywhere. One work of art or one symphony may not speak to an individual, but the accumulative works that constitute the arts as a whole should be a human reflection and reaction to the world and society. A cornucopia of interpretations on the collective spirit and history of same through time. If that is to be true, we must make all aspects of the arts more accessible to everyone.
And the arts must recognize at times the changing nature of the world in which it finds itself. If the arts community wants to reverse the disturbing trend of younger people, (and those of lesser means) flocking away from theatre, symphony orchestras and galleries, then it must begin to open up to such people as they open up to one another. With frank but surprisingly (sometimes) probing use of various social media. They need to make what they make more personal, and less institutional.
Instead of simply tweeting, "Picasso Exhibit Open 9AM to 9PM M-F Until August 15", how about posting about how the exhibit was put together? Tweet about how hard it is to get the works for the show. Post some pictures on your Facebook page of the arrival of the works. And (shock of all shocks) maybe even ask those out their on social media what they might suggest for your exhibit.
Apply the same idea to theatre. Or any of the arts categories that have allowed themselves in the last decades to be (incorrectly) dismissed by many as "luxuries" or "perks". (Do you really think football is any less of a luxury? But their PR is doing just fine.)
Not that this isn't happening in the Art communities in the United States, (as the article mentions.) But for some reason we seem less quick to embrace these methods within our arts organizations. But if we are to change the thinking of many Americans about the arts, the arts need to change their thinking about social media.