Queens Art Express is a spring arts festival of exhibitions, events, performances, and great places to eat in the vibrant cultural communities of Queens NY — along the route of the No. 7 train and beyond. The event is a project of the Queens Council on the Arts (QCA).
This year, in addition to promoting cultural activity across the borough, QAX launched the New World initiative, which commissioned 12 creators to produce new collaborative works that imagined a world where artists decide public policy. QAX also held a dining promotion called The Moveable Feast, that promoted neighborhood eateries favored by artists and curators.
QAX 2012 was a marketing engine, capturing positive media on TV, radio and the Web, and in print. The festival also generated positive feedback from participating venues for increasing their audiences and exposure. QAX 2012 was co-developed and produced by marketing strategist Brian Tate, who specializes in leveraging the arts to market destinations. We asked Brian a few questions about how QAX was promoted.
ARTPLACE: What were the most effective strategies for attracting the attention of people who matter?
BRIAN: First we identified the people who were closest to us, and then the people we wanted to reach. Our Core Audience is made up of artists, arts presenters, art lovers, and community stakeholders throughout Queens. Our Target Audience consists of similar folks from throughout New York City, with a focus on residents of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Then we defined our marketing messages:
1. Queens is a rich destination for compelling arts and culture.
2. There's also great dining to enjoy between events.
3. It's easy to get around.
Reaching residents was as important as attracting visitors. Some years ago in Brooklyn, we learned that many Brooklynites traveled to Manhattan for their arts and culture experiences, which meant their spin-off commerce from shopping and dining was also concentrated in Manhattan. Reversing that trend meant first promoting Brooklyn to Brooklynites, then to the world. A related dynamic occurred in Washington, DC during the 1990s, when hits to the city's national image dampened a sense of local pride. Any successful destination campaign has to first speak to, for, and about the people who live there. If they don't own it and support it, no one else will.
ARTPLACE: How did you apply that thinking to QAX?
BRIAN: We expanded the festival's scope to include neighborhoods throughout Queens, far beyond those along the route of the number 7 train. Then we added a geographical focus by highlighting cultural activity in three neighborhoods: Flushing, Jamaica, and Long Island City. We redesigned the QAX website to allow Queens artists and arts venues throughout the borough to post their events on the homepage, as top content on a rotating slideshow. We gave each event producer their own calendar page, and encouraged them to widely promote their events through a QAX website link -- which helped increase overall traffic to the site.
ARTPLACE: If the website encompassed all of Queens, how did you put added focus on Flushing, Jamaica, and Long Island City?
BRIAN: We held our own events at galleries in those three neighborhoods. And those commissioned events, the New World collaborations, were conceived to attract attention to the entire festival.
ARTPLACE: How did the strategy work?
BRIAN: Beautifully. The New World events captured fresh media for QAX with headlines like "Queens Art Express Festival Tackles National Problems," and "Queens Art Express wants YOU to get engaged." That exposure helped spike traffic to the website, which increased visibility for our borough-wide Calendar of Events. We also encouraged our New World artists to promote QAX to their many friends and followers, which further helped attract arts audiences to Queens -- from within the borough, and far beyond.
ARTPLACE: How did you put special attention on local audiences?
BRIAN: Months before QAX we convened meetings in each of our highlighted neighborhoods to gain the input and participation of local stakeholders. In the weeks leading up to the event we distributed QAX brochure-maps and postcards throughout the borough. We also eblasted 6,000 Queens artists and arts producers with an invitation to post their events at the project website.
ARTPLACE: What other tactics did you use to reach audiences outside Queens?
BRIAN: We were fortunate to involve two powerful media allies: New York Public Radio, which aired promotional spots for QAX on WNYC, the most-listened to radio station in New York City, and Yelp!, which promoted QAX to its vast membership of event-goers in New York City. We also put a dedicated staffer on social media, and she aggressively Tweeted and posted news of the event. She also connected all festival artists, venues, and friends through Facebook and Twitter, and they advanced the message through their own pages. We also eblasted 7,000 New York City artists with news of the event, links to our social media, and a links to the festival website.
ARTPLACE: Are you happy with the outcomes?
BRIAN: The owner of the Dorsky Gallery, a key venue in Long Island City, wrote us afterwards to say, "I don’t know what was different about marketing or partnerships this year, but we had lots of first-time visitors on Saturday and Sunday referring to the festival. We were closed for installation last year, but in the two previous years, we never saw that kind of traffic or even awareness about QAX. Bravo and thank you." The curator of Crossing Art, in Flushing, wrote us to say, "Our 'regulars' felt this was the best exhibition and turn out to date. They saw several new faces and were quite pleased to see such diversity in the crowd. QAX this year really offered us a plethora of visibility."
So yes, if our stakeholders are happy, then we're happy.
ARTPLACE: What recommendation would you make to other groups seeking similar results?
BRIAN: Involve the community. If they're invested, you can't lose.