Visual and Performing Arts Marketing Insights Part Two

AMA San Diego President Christine Wiley addresses the audience as the panelists look on.

Arts marketing experts reveal what’s under the hood and what keeps them up at night

As part of the multi-year AMA San Diego State of Marketing Study, in February 2018 I moderated a panel of four visual and performing marketing experts from San Diego who are passionate about the arts and the art of marketing. 

The four panelists participating in the Arts Marketing Panel included:

  • Jessica York, Deputy Director and Chief Advancement Officer, Mingei International Museum
  • Kari Kovach, Director of Marketing and Communications, The San Diego Museum of Art
  • Mia Fiorella, Associate Director of Sales and Marketing, La Jolla Playhouse
  • Rise Walter, Chief Marketing Office, San Diego Opera

This article forms the second part of a two-part series on arts marketing. The first article in the series focused on key themes addressed during the panel discussion including the critical importance of transparency, diversifying audiences, and enhancing and personalizing the arts experience. In the spirit of transparency, this second article describes what we learned when our esteemed panel “lifted the hood” to reveal valuable tools in their marketing toolboxes, as well as what keeps them awake at night.


As those in the visual and performing arts must continually engage the community, “must haves” in the arts marketing toolbox include a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, an email platform such as MailChimp, social media platforms, and surveys. Other important “tools” in the toolbox include direct mail, a staff that serves as brand advocates, and data that is analyzed, interpreted, and used.

Now that many marketing communications are digital, direct mail is proving to be an effective tool for some arts organizations to break through the clutter. People are not getting much snail mail these days so when a simple, provocative postcard or catalog is sent, it cuts through.

Kari Kovach at The San Diego Museum of Art works with museum staff to ensure that all who are visiting have a pleasant and successful experience. From the Executive Director to front-line staff to curators to the clean-up crew, all are involved in promoting the brand.

“The people are your best ambassadors for achieving brand value and cachet.” – Kari Kovach, The San Diego Museum of Art

In an arts organization, data is gathered from multiple sources. As marketing frequently uses data-driven decision making, it is important to have someone available who can combine, interpret, and communicate the insights inherent in the data.

Design Thinking has been used by the Mingei International Museum to reposition their brand. While Design Thinking may be a bit of a buzzword, it has been very successful for the museum in creating new solutions, strategies and tactics, and is increasingly employed by many organizations, not just those in the arts.  

“It’s a multistep method that yields a real understanding of your customers’ needs. There’s an empathy piece which is incredibly important. The idea is to create innovative solutions that are based in reality, iterating them, prototyping, and testing to get to a quick solution or resolution. The idea is to take the empathy journey and turn it into a way to test and/or refine an idea which can really help address your needs and most importantly your consumers’ needs.” – Jessica York, Mingei International Museum


The arts marketing experts were asked what “keeps them awake at night.” Limited resources, survival of the arts, empty seats, and competition from unlikely sources are all keeping arts marketers from a restful night’s sleep.  

People who work in the arts are passionate about what they do and are highly talented. A shared problem for arts marketing executives is having many ideas but a dearth of people, time, and money to execute them. Limited resources can make the many tasks for which marketers are responsible feel daunting at times.  

“Our marketing team creates 8-10 companies throughout the year (these represent shows). Each one needs a fresh brand, a new pricing structure, a different capacity, a customized advertising and social media campaign with an aggressive revenue and audience engagement goal. This is what makes marketing new work at the Playhouse a unique experience with wonderful puzzles to solve. All of this, and an empty seat, keep me up at night.” – Mia Fiorella, La Jolla Playhouse

Survival of the arts is of concern. The ubiquitous use of content may be having a negative impact on survival of the arts because it removes the precious nature of art.

“The arts change you. Going into a museum changes you if you stand and look at a painting and take it in. Seeing a play can change a mindset, it changes our humanity. So, for me that’s big picture … Arts are going to keep us human.” – Rise Walter, San Diego Opera

Empty seats at performing arts events keep marketers awake at night. This refers not just to unsold seats but also to seats that are unfilled due to failure of the customer to attend an event.

“If someone didn’t attend – an empty seat – then why didn’t they attend? What’s going on there? An empty seat is a missed opportunity always, always, always.” – Mia Fiorella, La Jolla Playhouse

The arts face competition not just from other arts organizations but from all cultural activities that include restaurants, public art, movies, going to a park. Jessica York from Mingei International Museum shared this quote from the 2017 Culture Track Study:

“The definition of culture has just democratized. Nearly to the point of extinction. It’s no longer about high versus low, or culture versus entertainment. It’s about relevance or irrelevance. Activities that have traditionally been considered culture, and those that haven’t are now on a level playing field.”


Given the challenges facing marketers specializing in visual and performing arts marketing, it is clear that marketing the arts is not for the faint hearted. Our panelists demonstrated great passion for the arts and tremendous expertise in arts marketing. The experts generously shared their marketing tools and fears. Not only was the panel discussion an education for marketers, but given their support of the arts, it was a great privilege to interview them.

Kirsty Nunez is the President and Chief Research Strategist at Q2 Insights, Inc., a research and innovation consulting firm with offices in San Diego and New Orleans. One of Q2 Insights’ areas of specialization is performing and visual arts marketing research. If you would like to learn more, please reach out to Kirsty and her team at (760) 230-2950 ext. 1 or

Q2 Insights, Inc. designs, conducts, analyzes, and compiles the report for the State of Marketing Study each year. FreshForm contributes strategic vision and creative design to the report. If the Chief Marketing Officer, Vice President of Marketing, or the Director of Marketing from your organization would like to participate in the 2018 State of Marketing Study, please have them contact Kirsty Nunez at or (760) 230-2950.

About Kirsty

Kirsty Nunez is the President and Chief Research Strategist at Q2 Insights, Inc., a research and innovation consulting firm with offices in San Diego and New Orleans. She can be reached at (760) 230-2950 ext. 1 or