The Thinking Artist: Sondheim & Social Media

By Patrick Dennis

I am an artist and I’ve been thinking…

I had a birthday at the end of July, which given my advanced state of decay is amazing in itself. I woke up with the words from “I’m Still Here” from Sondheim’s Follies as sung by Yvonne DeCarlo (better known as Lily Munster) in my head. “Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here. Plush velvet sometimes, sometimes just pretzels and beer. But I’m here…”  I think she must have been in her 70s in 1971.

I tried my best to let the day pass like any other, avoiding all thoughts of maturity, my abandoned plans to exercise more and plan better for retirement rationalizing that there is no reason to embrace reality when it comes crashing through the door uninvited anyway.  (Queue music: “I’ve run the gamut A to Z; Three cheers and dammit c’est la vie; I got through all of last year, and I’m here…”)

I left my vintage black Rolls Royce parked in the garage, determined to act like other “normal” people and blend in for a change.  No more extremes for me.  And then my so-called “smart phone” started to explode with messages on Facebook, Twitter and email. People I have neglected for months and months sent heartwarming notes about how much they appreciate me, miss me, and want to get together.

I felt the panic rise as I realized that there is no such thing as “normal” anymore with the advent of social media. I considered hiding in the roomy trunk of the Rolls humming Sondheim until morning but realized it would be futile, plus it would attract old ladies and cats. Like a second act for 2011, I am here and prepared to face my network!

Recently Collin Kelley, the editor of Atlanta INtown shared his insights on the virtues and pitfalls of social media to a group of artists who assembled at my gallery. “If you’re still sending massive newsletters to your list of clients hoping they will open it, you are wasting your time,” he said. “Why would you spend so much time and effort on something that might not even be opened?  Save yourself time and effort by sending a short note or photo to Facebook or Twitter friends. They are already there.”

And with those words, my view of our culture changed yet again.  Sending email newsletters is like the quaint equivalent of knocking on doors to sell magazines or humming songs from a musical nobody remembers.  This simple observation sent a wave of astonishment through the room.

Hot on the heels of this advice, I tried to quantify the difference when promoting an upcoming festival. Newsletter open rate: 25 percent. Facebook and Twitter rate of response: 80 percent. The people who got the shorter message on social media didn’t need to open it.  Their door was already open, no knocking required. And the results produced the desired result: one of the best attended first time festivals (Festival on Ponce) ever, with an estimated 30,000 visitors.

It proved to me that I’m not the only one feeling like there is not an extra minute in the day to read a newsletter unless it promises that it will turn the clock back and tighten my abs. We need it short and to the point. We want the 30-second pitch to make decisions about our spending habits. My advice to you?  Hone your instincts and sharpen your 140 character skills because you can’t hide from the future, even in the trunk of very old fashioned car with the cast of Follies.

Upcoming Events

Sept. 8: Study of Strange Things, new photographic works by Atlanta artist Marcia Vaitsman at Solomon Projects. 1037 Monroe Drive, solomonprojects.com.

Sept. 8: 43rd annual Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain Park,  stonemountainpark.com.

Sept. 9: Emory Creativity and Arts Soiree at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. 1700 N. Decatur Road, arts.emory.edu.

Sept. 10: Fall Folk Life Festival at the Atlanta History Center features traditional crafters and environmental sustainability with a twist. 130 W. Paces Ferry Road, atlantahistorycenter.com.

Sept. 17-18: Sandy Springs Festival (sandyspringsfestival.com) and Atlanta Arts Festival (atlantaartsfestival.com).

Sept. 23: Atlanta Celebrates Photography, the 6th annual auction at King Plow Arts Center. 887 Marietta St., kingplow.com

Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. Email: Patrick@affps.com

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