Arts Learning Xchange – Northern Clay Center

Arts Learning Xchange – Northern Clay Center


– Well, I noticed the applause
was a lot quieter than this morning already, so… [cheers and applause] I’m really excited
that I get to present first, because I get to keep you guys
awake after lunch, which is not going to be
an easy feat, ’cause that was a good big lunch
for me. The second reason I’m really
excited to present up here is, my colleague told me
that Prince once played here. Or multiple times? I tried to Google it
to prove it, couldn’t find it, so I thought no one could
argue me on that point. So I’m very excited to stand
where Prince stood. And the third reason
I’m excited to be here is, these types of things generate
conversations, right? And so you have your colleagues. You go back to lunch,
and you talk about all the things you learned
or didn’t learn or liked or didn’t like, and those conversations
sort of trickle out. And so one of the interesting
things that happened after we talked about
audience research before is, there was a little bathroom poll
that was conducted. I’m waiting in line
for the restroom, and people are talking about
whether or not you would tell someone they had
something in their teeth after they ate. And so it was exciting to know
that what we’re learning here is actually filtering
into our lives. So do I have something
in my teeth? No?
Okay. So my name is Sarah Millfelt. I am now the director of Northern Clay Center
in Minneapolis. I have a clicker
that I’m going to try to use. Yes! And there’s a laser.
Oh! Where’s the laser?
[gasps] I’m the first one
to use the laser too? That’s my first slide. [laughter] The Clay Center’s mission is the
advancement of the ceramic arts. We have several programs. We exhibit work by local,
national, international ceramic artists, sculptors,
potters, you name it. We have studio space
and fellowships and grants for artists. We have a sales gallery representing 60-plus
artists’ work, mainly pots. And we have a wonderful
and growing, ever-growing education program. So we serve adult learners. We have clay campers. We have an outreach program
as well. So… I’m really new
at this technology thing. Hey, second slide. So Northern Clay Center received a Wallace Excellence Foundation
Award in 2009, and our goal was to expand
our programming to people who were 55-plus. We deliberately did not call
this population the “senior” population, because as some of you know
who are in that category, you are not yet seniors. So it’s the 55-plus audience. We have had a very active
ClayToGo program since 1999. We have a ClayMobile. It goes out into the community. We have very purposeful
programming with schools
and community organizations. We’re at the Uptown Art Fair
every year. So we had a very strong program. But prior to 2009, our
main audience for that program was school-aged youth, families,
whatnot. So we’d been reaching an average
of 5,000 to 6,000 people a year through that program. So we were still reaching
the 55-plus audience but more by accident
or happenstance. So, in brief,
the two major reasons we decided to pursue
the 55-plus population, the silver tsunami–
which is really old terminology, but I still think it’s fun. The increasing numbers
of adults, the Baby Boomers
moving into that age category, especially in Minnesota. We heard
the state demographer talk, and it was like these numbers
are going to be a reality. How could we do
some real purposeful programming for this group? The second reason was because
there was growing evidence that the involvement in the arts
for this population included the–excuse me,
improved the quality of life. So with our funds,
what we had hoped to do– this isn’t so hard
with this clicker. We had hoped to expand
existing programs and develop new programs, primarily within
our educational program. We wanted to conduct programs
both on-site and off-site for people who were 55-plus, for the group that was making
their own decisions about time and money. We wanted to tour
our permanent collection to different venues
that would reach this audience. We wanted to take
current programming options on the road
to site-specific populations like care centers,
nursing homes, and whatnot. We thought a little bit
about–before we applied, we thought about just trying to get the general
55-plus audience to come to the Clay Center
to visit the openings and the events and whatnot, but from the start,
our real primary goal was a purposeful, intentional
programming where we were specifically
designing activities to meet the needs of this group. Um, turning the page. We started by doing
some preliminary research, some audience research. We had a market researcher
come in and conduct tons of focus groups and individual interviews
in person and on the phone. And we learned
about this population, that friends and family
are the largest influencers. Seasons affect the decisions. Budget is certainly
a consideration. Specifically, to get folks
to participate in something at the Clay Center, we had to be aware
of cost and location and hours. And things like parking
availability were import, the amount of exhibition space,
what was on display. So we also talked to people
about what they loved about art and what made them participate
in it, and folks told us that it
provided them with an escape. It connects them
to their spiritual side. It fascinates them. And we learned that, you know, people don’t want to make it,
necessarily. Sometimes people don’t want
to get messy with clay, but they want to learn about it. They want to learn
about the rich history that Minnesota has in ceramics. So we had all of these
great lessons on the front end, and then it was like, “Okay, well,
we got to start programming.” So I’m going to talk
a little bit about– there’s sort of two tracks
of activities that we did. Again, we tried to get
the general population to come see us and come visit us
and participate, the people that were making
decisions about time and money. And then we did
the purposeful programming with care centers,
nursing homes, and hospital settings
and whatnot. And along the way,
we were trying to figure out, “Well,
how do we brand ourselves? “How do we use
digital technology? How do we evaluate
the programs?” So I’m just going to talk
a little bit about those categories,
mainly because Arts Xchange told me to talk
about those categories, so I’m going to keep it
like this. I’m a rule follower. Okay, so branding. Initially, we didn’t have
an intention of branding this program that we were already calling
sort of ClayToGo. But we kept using our learnings
and best practices to woo new partners. We weren’t stamping a label
or anything on it. It was word of mouth,
and that was really working. But what wasn’t working, really,
was getting droves of 55-plus to just come to the Clay Center
on their own. So we worked with an ad agency, and we tried
to essentially piggyback onto what we were already
doing well– like, family-centered events
and whatnot– but brand it, talk about it
in a different way. So we hired
a very expensive ad agency courtesy of the Wallace money,
which we’re very thankful to do, and we coined these events
[email protected] “Northern Clay Center,
where art is always at hand.” And so this is the first time that we sort of added
a new program name, and we still have to
remind ourselves to use it. It’s funny; it’s, like,
almost four years later, and we’re like,
“Oh, it’s [email protected]” You know, ’cause we’ll have
a jazzy name, but we have to put “[email protected]
in front of it. So we’re trying to use it
more purposefully now, and today it’s a series
of really– we call them accessible programs
for people who are 55-plus. But you can bring your family. You can bring your friends. We’re not going to kick you out. We’re not going to– we’ll let you use the coupon
if you’re 55-plus, but, you know,
it’s for everybody. We learned that people
didn’t want to be put together in a group
with other 55-plusers. They wanted to be able to have
a real inclusive experience. And so we have these events that
are very low-cost, if not free. Some of them are weekly. Some of them are seasonal. And it’s just a lot of
really fun, exciting stuff. And so we had these wonderful,
big ad agency brains on our side, and eventually the participation
increased over time. The first couple, it was like, “Oh, we spent this kind of money
to do this.” And I don’t mean to be a downer. There are a lot of
wonderful ad agencies, and it works
for a lot of people, but we’re a niche
within a niche within a niche. Not everybody wants
to touch clay or see clay. So it was harder for us
to build audiences, so it was a combination
of this branding and building these wonderful
relationships. Um, click.
Digital technology. Our use of technology
at the Clay Center has been very slow
and cumbersome. One of the first things
we did is, we started putting our surveys
and such online through Constant Contact instead of collecting
300 paper surveys every quarter. So we took
all these little baby steps. And switching to online surveys
meant that our evaluators could now track stuff easily, and we weren’t paging
through results. In 2010,
we started using Facebook, and we did that really covertly, ’cause we weren’t all
on board with it. And so one day, we–
like, one day, I noticed we had
a Facebook page, and it was like, “Oh, okay,
we’re going to do this.” And today–I mean,
it really happened like that, ’cause there were all these– “Well, we have to open ourselves
up to public criticism, “and then people are going
to have a voice “about the organization, and how do we control this
and content?” All of the questions
you guys still deal with today. So now I think Dustin told me
this morning we have 1,700 fans? And growing,
so on your mobiles right now, you can become a fan
of Northern Clay Center. It was really–half of our staff
was pro social media. The rest of us, like me,
were still living in caves– you know, texting
but, like, not using Facebook. So today all of our events
get posted here– everything, incentives. We link to other, you know,
exciting things going on. And, you know,
I’m looking up there– okay, so 400 and however many. 403 people saw that post about
Kip talking about her pots? Which is a really big deal
for us. Clay people use technology. In the second quarter of 2012, we hired a part-time webmaster
or whatever we call her, and so she’s slowly taking over
responsibility for this. So now we actually have a person
on staff who’s devoted to that. It’s not just ad hoc. And then earlier this year,
we began a partnership with Twin Cities
Public Television, and we’re doing a documentary
with them and telling the stories about what we’ve already done
under this initiative. So we’ll use that
as a marketing tool. So stay tuned. I think the second week
in March, you guys will see something about Northern Clay Center’s
[email protected]? I used the word. So also part of this was,
we did ongoing evaluation throughout
all of these projects. So we did initial demographic
surveys so we could find out, “What does our audience
already look like? How do they hear about us?” So every time people came
to an event at the Clay Center, they had to fill out
the little pink survey. And if you guys have been
to the Clay Center, you’ve seen
the little pink survey that we keep throwing at you. And now the incentive
to fill out that survey is the promise that within
six months to a year, they will only be asked
twice a year to fill out that survey. But it helped us track,
who were the repeat visitors? What zip codes were they from? Did they hear about the thing
that we– the advertising we did on WLTE? No, they didn’t. You know, how’d they hear
about us? Friends of friends? And so from there, we continued
to track all the information. You know, surveying students,
surveying participants. When you’re working
with the 55-plus population, you have the people who are
making their own decisions about time and money, and then you have a group
that’s not really making their own decision
about time and money, so we’re working with
gatekeepers and other organizations. So we’re evaluating
their experience as well. So we–some of the things
we learned, I can share that with you. And again
this is really specific to Northern Clay Center, not necessarily
any other organization. But we can’t measure our success
of our programs through traditional means. It’s more anecdotal reports of increased socialization
amongst people or, you know, word of mouth. You know, “My friend
here at the care center “has experienced
fewer signs of depression. She’s socializing more.” So it’s not about the quality of
the art that’s being produced. We still have high-quality
teachers teaching, but it’s not about
that end product. We learned that, essentially,
it’s relationship-building. We have identified a core group
of gatekeepers, and they are in
at these care centers and nursing homes and whatnot, and they’ve fallen in love with
the Clay Center’s programs, and they’ve touched clay, and they’re
our biggest advocates. And they have a rapport
with their clients, and they’re essentially doing
the marketing for us and building these audiences. Civic engagement has been
really key for this population, and we’ve noticed–
this wasn’t intentional, but we noticed
all of these 55-plusers at our organization now saying,
“We want to be volunteers, “and we don’t just want to run
the copy machine “and stuff envelopes. We want to do really engaging,
purposeful work.” So we’ve re–you know,
we rethink how we’re using
people’s skill sets now. We’ve trained two batches
of wonderful tour guides at the Clay Center, and most
of those folks are 55-plus. And we have a wonderful
volunteer librarian now, and she’s retired,
and that’s what she does. And we’re getting
wonderful, wonderful things out of these people. We learned that all of the
flashy marketing material doesn’t really work,
that the social media works, the word of mouth,
referring friends, ambassador coupons,
all that fun stuff. And, again, this is year four
of this, and we kept trying. It was like running our head
up against a brick wall, and it was like,
“These aren’t working.” And I think it’s important
to stand up here and tell you guys
that not everything worked. We just did a great little
marketing piece. We thought
it was going to be great. We sent it to 6,000 people,
offered a coupon. How many people
used that coupon? Dustin,
I’ll put you on the spot. – None yet.
– Thank you, none yet. [laughter] But we were afforded the luxury
of that through this grant. You know, we’re embarrassed. We didn’t want to go back to
Wallace and say, “That failed.” But for every failure, we had maybe three to four
to five successes. So–but we still kind of tried
that avenue. “Let’s send out
this flashy marketing piece,” even though we already knew. So–but we sent
ambassador coupons. [whispers]
Two minutes. We sent ambassador coupons out, and people brought
their friends in, new friends to the Clay Center. Last thing.
Is this more evaluation? See, all these people 55-plus
having a ball with clay. The Mondales are up
in the left-hand corner. They loved the clay. Audience relationships. In my opinion,
the audience relationships are the key to the success
of the entire initiative. From day one, we developed
a list of point people that we could work with
through this entire initiative. We had a cohort of really smart,
networked 55-plus individuals who continue to shape
our programs through their
collaborative efforts. We connected
with a rec therapist at the Bethesda rehab hospital;
a public health nurse; a wonderful woman
named Pat Samples, who is now with ARTSAGE, who is bringing art
to older adults. And so we’ve just built
on these relationships, and word of mouth has built
even more relationships. We’ve empowered our own
Northern Clay Center ambassadors to talk about what we’re doing
and to bring their friends in. And when the money runs out–
we got an extension, so we have
until midyear next year to spend this money down,
but when it runs out, we have these networks,
we have this stuff in place, and we have additional funding from folks like
the state arts board. And so in terms
of program growth, again we’re not–
our work is a little different. We’re not filling seats,
getting people to come in for– you know, like,
trying to fill seats. It’s creating a conversation
in clay and creating
a hands-on experience, so our numbers are a lot lower than a lot of
these other places. So in 2009,
we worked with another– an additional 500 people,
and that was with a program that was already
5,000 people large. The next year, we bumped that up
to just under 700. Last year,
we had 2,500 people participate in over 100 different, unique
partnerships and classes and workshops. And year to date, we’re a little
over our halfway mark, so we’re at about 1,200. So, you know, the participation is just going to continue
to grow, and we have plans in place
to continue to fund it as well. There might be another slide. It’s just more graphs
for you guys after lunch. So–and then we’ll use this
one more time. Look at the program growth. [laughter] Okay.

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