Social marketing is most commonly associated with the field of public health. Indeed, the most easily recalled examples are campaigns aimed at smoking cessation, condom use, eating a balanced diet, etc. Social marketing is also used to promote prosocial behaviors like carpooling, reduction of water use, recycling, etc.

So where do the arts fit in? While the arts are not commonly considered in connection to topics of public health or prosocial behavior, they nevertheless occupy an important sphere of society, one that directly benefits the public good. Economic development, a well-rounded education, mental wellbeing, and the strengthening of communities are just some of the areas where the arts play a meaningful role. In spite of these benefits, however, the arts are consistently marginalized in the United States.This lack of support is especially evident in public policy that materializes in dramatic budget cuts or overt lack of funding. Take, for example, widespread budget cuts for arts education in public schools as well as minimal funding/support/research for art therapy as a public health intervention. Advocates of the arts, including arts organizations, recognize that this is a problem. How can we support the vitality of the arts and ensure their continuing benefit to society? Part of the answer, perhaps,  lies in our ability to communicate their value and encourage participation through social marketing tactics and strategic campaigns.

Social marketing has demonstrated effectiveness in changing behaviors and reshaping social norms for the benefit of society in the field of public health. If social marketing can encourage people to wear seatbelts or get screened for STDs, can it also be used to encourage more people to engage actively with the arts? This is an important question and one that deserves deeper investigation.

Arts organizations are beginning to recognize that encouraging involvement and support for the arts goes beyond entrance numbers and ticket sales. The adage, “if you build it (and promote it), they will come” no longer applies in today’s marketplace of competing options. Simple promotion isn’t enough. Additionally, the “we know best” attitude regarding offerings and programming won’t cut it. The social marketing model, with its emphasis on behavior theory, research, and a targeted audience approach, offers an intriguing opportunity to strategically engage the public in active arts participation, which will ultimately benefit society and lead to stronger and more direct support. Ultimately, the application of social marketing to the arts is an emerging concept with plenty of room for discussion and exploration.