Wells Fargo recently approved, printed and distributed promotional materials for their Teen Financial Education Day to be held on September 17, 2016. In a bright orange and prominently placed box, it reads: "A ballerina yesterday. An engineer tomorrow. Let's get them ready for tomorrow." Another reads: "An actor yesterday. A botanist tomorrow."
Wells Fargo isn't the first company to frame the arts in this way - playing it directly against other potential career fields and quietly suggesting one makes more money than the other.
AT&T ran an ad on Twitter advertising its partnership with DirecTV encouraging disrespect of the theater experience (this ad has now been removed). The commercial said, ""Flip between the fight, the game, and the ballet you didn't want to go to."
A second AT&T and DirecTV ad went out soon after that said, "Don't let life get between you and football."
Then we have Old Navy who ran two designs marketed for children and infants that says, "Young Aspiring Artist" but artist is crossed out and replaced with "Astronaut."
First, what is marketing? It is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.
In order for marketing to achieve its goals of promoting and selling a product or service, it uses storytelling as a vehicle to deliver a message succinctly; and this is where what we say and how we say it is critical to the future of our nation.
So instead of this ballerina getting upset that her longtime bank (the bank that holds all of my art-made money, the bank that held my savings so I could purchase my first home with all art-made money, the bank that didn't hesitate to set up my direct deposit to accept all of my art-made money) suggested my ballet money wasn't nearly as valuable as my friend's engineering-made money, I would like to discuss responsibility.
In marketing, you are charged with the responsibility of telling someone else's story. If you're going to bring another group's story into the discussion, I think companies should do so with elegance and grace.
1. What you say aloud is heard by future generations, and they don't get hear it; they embed it.
Framing - to make or construct something; to create or formulate (a concept, plan, or system) - is about building something. In this case, framing is about how you are telling the story, and with what emphasis you are directing the audience's attention toward or away from something. While children do not understand framing or the political or self-interested agenda driving it, they experience the frame. Placing art in direct contrast with engineering and placing the emphasis on engineering tells the child to reconsider their passions, interests, curiosities. It tells the child, "Ballet is for children. It's a hobby. It's something you do on the weekends. It's not a serious 9 to 5 career option." It demeans an entire field while also harming a child's instinctual curiosities for the world around them.
2. What you say aloud is heard by other fields, and it makes it more difficult for the arts to compete when it comes to offering job stability, benefits and more.
Recruiting and maintaining talent is important in all careers. Without people interested in the fields and without being able to offer those people stable options (solid salaries, health insurance, retirement plans, professional development) a field suffers. When decision-makers or potential audience members experience advertisements such as these, they start to believe that the arts aren't a serious field, and suddenly arts organizations are struggling to get health insurance for their teams or they cannot offer retirement plans. When audience members do not purchase tickets or stay actively engaged with the arts, everyone suffers. It forces the arts "underground" and makes the artists have to find other "real-world" jobs.
3. If you wouldn't downplay banking, real estate, retail or business, why downplay the arts?
I would love an answer this question: a real, thought-out, supported-with-research reason why the arts should not matter and should be demeaned over and over again. Anyone?
4. Saying "We didn't mean that literally" is not a valid excuse.
Then what did you mean? And if you can answer this very simple, upfront and basic question, why didn't you ask yourself that in the months that came before, preparing this ad? Say what you mean. And if your intentions were to downplay the arts, please see no. 3 and answer me why.
5. Creating ad campaigns require creative mindsets and hearts.
Are you telling me that no one - not a single person - on the creative teams for these ads stopped and said, "Wait... I took ballet when I was younger, and it helped shape who I am today"? Or "I took acting classes as a child, and it made me a better public speaker." No one? To create, to experience the creative process, is to be an artist. To downplay the artistic skills of the very people in the room creating the ads is to say your work does not matter.
6. Because hurting people, hurting families, hurting career options, hurting what people are striving to create to better our human experience is not kind.
Turn off all of your music. Take down all of the art work. Don't move. Because a world without art is quite dull. But if artists are not supported - financially, emotionally, mentally, structurally within our systems - then you are asking for a dull world.
7. The way the world perceives art is important.
We need art in our daily lives for happiness, for inspiration, for challenges. We need it to tell stories, provide opportunities, prompt questions and drive our thinking forward. We need it for color, for movement, for escape. We need to always stand up for art in our communities, in our public school's educational profile, and in our adult lives. Perceptions drive decision making, and decision making is what leads to funding, opportunities and visibility of art in our communities.
The fact that 3 prominent examples of businesses downplaying the arts came to mind without hesitation says: we have a problem. This world needs to be better at standing up for and respecting the arts.
How can you support the arts?
- Donate to a local arts organization.
- Purchase tickets to a performance or concert.
- Share articles that show your support for the arts.
- Take a visible and vocal stand for the arts.
- Write your local representatives stressing the importance of the arts.
The arts matter. I don't want any child believing they can't follow their passions, interests and curiosities. I don't want any child dropping what makes them feel joy to go into a career that doesn't make them happy. I don't want any child feeling they are "less" because they want to pursue the arts. Let's change the way we're discussing the arts.