Most artists and arts organizations truly hope to make a big impact. And why wouldn’t they? The potential benefits are numerous: more money, opportunity, reputation, personal fulfillment, and meaningful legacy bestowed upon the world.
But many of us buy into the false equation that big numbers equals big impact. The more people, the better.
As a result, bands spam their e-newsletter out to thousands (even if only 137 people care). Artists obsessively add “friends” to Facebook accounts. Schools pack in students by the hundreds on the rare occasion when a teaching artist is invited. I just learned about a cultural diplomacy effort whose funders explained they would only give money if future initiative affected new regions and populations, rather than returning to old ones. They insist that support be put to good use, “impacting” as many people as possible. Been there, done that. Isn’t it time to expand?
But that’s not how impact works. If you really want to make a difference—and reap the accompanying rewards—think small-scale. Make profound connections with the handful, rather than superficial ones with the masses. Changing fifteen lives dramatically is much more valuable than barely making an impression on 3000. Find ways to create relationships that are personal, deep, meaningful, and ongoing.
Consider education. Can a teacher with a class of 200 make a tenfold impression over one with a roster of twenty? On the contrary. As someone who has been in both of these situations, I can definitively attest that smaller course sizes trump larger ones. In fact, the overall composite impact may be 10 or more times greater for the reasonably sized gathering. How can you change lives if it’s not even possible to learn people’s names? Massive and impersonal usually can’t compete.
Of course, when your influence is strong and significant, affected individuals may well become advocates, teachers, and thought leaders who trumpet your message. In this way, impact spirals outward and grows exponentially.