The Venue Is Not a Building; It’s a Promise

“Madison Square garden,” © 2012 Eden, Jamie and Jim, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

“Madison Square garden,” © 2012 Eden, Jamie and Jim, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

There’s a song that some kids learn in Sunday School called “The Church Is not a Building” and I thought about it when I read a story about a performing arts venue in the midst of failing.

I won’t mention the venue, but I’ll give you a couple facts about the situation. It’s owned by a municipal agency, and it’s used by the community for other purposes, but it also brings in professional shows and sells them. Those shows are managed and sold separately.

But now for the bad part: Attendance averages 25% of capacity, which itself is mid-sized for performing arts, despite being in a fairly large market. The real kicker though is that the losses the professional shows have generated means that the community makes up the difference, funding those losses.

When I say “the venue is not a building,” what I mean is that the building isn’t the important part.

The most important thing that a venue can be is a promise about what kind of thing a ticket buyer can experience there. I went last night to Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena, and in that venue, the promise is that you’re going to see new(ish) plays that are going to challenge you. If I go to Madison Square Garden, I’m cashing in on the promise that I’m going to be at the beating heart of the greatest city in the world for an important event. Big and small, mainstream and quirky, venues can make all kinds of promises.

Here’s one that doesn’t work: a promise that you’ll see a decent show.

Not good enough, not special enough, not specific enough. It’s too easy, faced with such a promise, to sit on your, uh, sofa.

The building’s just one of the incidental tools to deliver on the promise.

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