LCI Blog: Communications Lessons from the Arts

Sean DowdallBy Sean Dowdall, LCI’s General Manager and Chief Marketing Officer
There are so many facets and techniques involved with the professional management of communications. What struck me last night, after having a very active and full day for a Sunday (isn’t Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?), is that art of all kinds provide examples and lessons on how to achieve deeper meaning with messages that engage people in moving and lasting ways.
Much of my day yesterday was well spent participating in the annual board retreat for ODC, the Center for Dance in the West which celebrated its 40th anniversary just a couple of years ago. At its dance complex which is comprised of two buildings in San Francisco’s Mission District, ODC offers and supports the complete cycle of creative development, participation and engagement focusing on body movement and supporting arts. It’s a comprehensive arts community covering incubation, instruction, production and performance. ODC is far more than a community in itself as its DNA is about engaging and being a part of the community. There’s really nothing like it!
ODC has a school with an impressive roster of more than 200 classes per week – nearly every type of dance instruction for people of all ages and skill levels is available. The ODC Theatre is a unique venue in that is has interaction with audiences throughout the creative process. Audiences are invited to works-in-progress to gather input and sample a number of works at one event. And, ODC has a world-class modern dance performing company with an awe-inspiring athletic style featuring programs that both intellectually captivate and entertain audiences. I have been a fan of ODC for 25 years, having been a board member for 10 years as well as a past president of the board.
Getting back to communications, Brenda Way, ODC’s founder and artistic director, said it yesterday – art should provoke people to ponder, “What does this mean, what do I think about it, how does this change the way I think or help me grow?” The beauty of art is its ability to reach people on the emotional level and incite them to think critically.  As such, art seeks to answer many of the same questions as the communications industry:

  1. What is the story?
  2. How can the story be told in new and creative ways in order to express a vision and inspiration?
  3. How do you want people to feel?
  4. What do you want people to do about it?

Now onto another art experience – this time as an audience member. Last evening I attended Bay Area Cabaret’s third show of its 2013-2014 season. Jim Brickman, a prolific and highly successful songwriter/pianist, was joined by Broadway star David Burnham at the historic Venetian Room in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. One of the things I love about cabaret is the performers’ banter and last night’s show was no disappointment. What you learn from good banter (being both funny and informative) are details pertaining to an artist’s background, their inspirations and what message they’re trying to convey – again – art inspiring emotions and thoughts. The other thing I love about live performance and cabaret in particular is that the communication is not one way. Audiences provide immediate feedback and the interaction is in the moment and in an intimate setting. Maybe a little more than welcome, some audience members yelled out requests and commentary. The performers last night responded graciously to that and used it to make the show better – a great example for all of us.

Jim Brickman
Jim Brickman

David Burnham
David Burnham

Questions or comments? Please send them to Sean at [email protected] or leave a comment below.


5 thoughts on “LCI Blog: Communications Lessons from the Arts

  1. Thanks, Sean – I never thought of communications in this way, but you are right, there are parallels! Next time I go to an art exhibit or a performance, I am sure I’ll think about this.

  2. Great blog post, Sean. Even in art, communications are key. I love Brenda Way’s quote and I think we should apply it to all aspects of our life: “How does (this experience, this work I do, this art performance, this trip) change the way I think or help me grow?” If we all tried to live in a more contemplative world, perhaps we’d be a bit better off (and get along more beautifully in the process?) Cheers, David

  3. Thanks Sean for writing about art and communication! This has been on my mind as of late because I just saw Oliver Stone’s film on the Doors. I was dismayed at how self destructive some of our great artists have been as in the “27 Club.” Dance and interacting with the audience in cabaret seem healthy venues for everyone. I keep on thinking back to all the wonderful art performances during the night of the Millennium throughout the world. I thought that this is what the world should be doing…interacting through art and the creative process.

  4. Sean, what a beautiful piece on art and communication. The ability to communicate, musically and in words, is the touchstone of a good cabaret performer. I too enjoyed the banter and genuine rapport between David Burnham and Jim Brickman at Sunday night’s show. Made me look forward to the repartee in John Pizzarelli’s January show with his wife Jessica Molaskey and, of course, Karen Mason’s show on 5/18. She’s won ten Manhattan Association of Clubs and Cabarets (MAC) Awards because she is an expert at weaving stories and songs into a show that has a real arc to it. The word “patter” is used to describe those spoken words between songs, and yet that word makes it sound too trivial. For me, what is said is as important as what is sung… It can make or break a performance!

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