We are trying to keep the "fire" burning here in Columbus, OH. We have an improvisers collective called Outpost and we stage shows which typically involve both musicians from the collective and touring artists. I myself have been putting on shows for over 5 years. In the course of that time we've built a small but stable audience. Recently in the past year we've been putting together more in the way of mixed bills....DJs, some alt-folk, etc. Presenting this music in a town where people haven't really been exposed to it on any consistent basis demands a more flexible approach in order to bring new people into the tent.
I encourage presenters in other Midwestern burgs to do eclectic shows that involve improvised music but are not an all-or-nothing proposition. Being pure and dedicated solely to improv/experimental music is beautiful but makes the task of building an audience way more difficult. I am also an advocate of "theme" shows. I know some might find it cheesy or slick, but a lot of the names in this music have very little wider currency/recognition so developing a theme around an evening allows you to promote the evening in a way beyond just asking people to come out to see individual musicians. Examples of theme nights: "Percussion Discussion" --- experimental percussion, plus a world music rhythm group....."Guitars on the edge" --- (varied progressive approaches to guitar).....you get the idea.
Creating a positive, welcoming climate is what I find has probably been the most important thing in our shows success though. Being human, people are going to remember evenings not just for the music they heard but for the hang and the people they met. So I'm proud that the guys in our collective are as much ambassadors for the music on a social level as in playing. They don't have insular/exclusivist attitudes and make a point to be friendly and helpful. One of the perils of "art music" is that it can quickly descend into just another insular, pretentious scene if this climate isn't actively created. I guess some people don't mind this. I think we in the Midwest though are less likely to succumb to that, and I'm thankful that's the case.
I will keep offering more insights that I've gained presenting shows here in the future. Feel free to ask me any questions if you like.
- Gerard Cox, Columbus OH