Vineyard media managers’ message to local artists: help us help you

From left, Louisa Hufstader, MV Patch; Greg Orcutt, WMVY; and Frederica Carpenter, Martha's Vineyard Online; contributed to the local media panel discussion. — Photo by Barry Stringfellow

The Vineyard has long been known for its artist community. Artists of all stripes, including architects, interior designers, fashion designers, and graphic designers find inspiration on the Island, and account for 10.2 percent of the overall economy. They also face the challenge of having their work seen by the widest audience possible—not an easy task for any artist, but especially for ones who live on an Island with a short selling season.

As part of Fall for the Arts, a month-long celebration of arts and culture on the Cape and Islands, Arts Martha’s Vineyard is conducting the Creative Economy Speaker Series, an ongoing program of Tuesday lunchtime gatherings at the Harbor View Hotel. These free, bring-your-own-lunch events have guest speakers and panels that share their thoughts on how Island artists and organizations can better promote their work on and off Island.

Tuesday, October 8 was local media day. The principals from the Island newspapers, television and radio station, as well as dedicated digital media publications, were on hand to share their thoughts, in a discussion moderated by Ann Smith, executive director of the Featherstone Center for the Arts. The panelists were Mindy Todd, WCAI Radio; Peter Oberfest, Martha’s Vineyard Times; Greg Orcutt, WMVY; Steve Warriner, MVTV; Jane Seagrave, Vineyard Gazette; Frederica Carpenter, Martha’s Vineyard Online; and Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Patch.

A recurring topic in the discussion was the strong desire of all Island media outlets to promote the Vineyard arts scene. An advantage Island artists have is that these media outlets are accessible — they don’t need an agent or a public relations firm to get someone to listen — and all they have to do is pick up the phone or send an email. If there’s a compelling narrative, the story has a better chance of getting coverage. But it has to be done in a timely fashion.

“We need the best information as early as we can get it,” said Peter Oberfest, publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Times. “It used to be axiomatic that local newspapers would show a picture of someone having a good time at an event last week. But it turns out most of you would rather have us do a story about something that is going to happen. Having information like that is the best thing for us. Showing photos of someone having a good time at a gallery opening last week doesn’t have the same benefit of announcing the event, ideally with a narrative about the artist or organization.”

“We don’t do puff pieces,” said Vineyard Gazette publisher Jane Seagrave. “We’re very selective about what we cover. We get very deep — how did you decide to become an artist? Being distinctive is important to us. Come to us with a unique angle.”

“Please get us your info as early as possible,” said Greg Orcutt, general manager of radio station WMVY. “We also service Nantucket and the Cape, and our signal goes out to the Newport area, so you’re reaching a wide audience. I’ve had calls in the morning about something that’s going to happen in two hours.”

Mr. Orcutt also asked that written pitches or press releases be kept under four pages. “One time, I got a document that was 15 pages. That was a little much,” he said.

“We’re always looking for local stories,” said Mindy Todd, from radio station WCAI. “Our reporters search out creativity throughout the our listening area. And not just the arts. We just did a story about someone who invented a device that cleaned up oil spills. If you want to pitch an idea, Amy Vince is always game to hear story ideas. If you have an event that you would like us to team up with, let us know. We can also pass it along to our web team,” she said.

Steve Warriner, executive director of MVTV, said the local television station is a blank canvas for local artists. “We hope to make the process easier for people to put up their own work,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to us, you do what you want to do. The core mission of MVTV really is about what the public wants to do. We provide the tools and the training and the air time. We’ll train you. Recently we had an artist come in to show his collages. But when we got him to tell why he did those collages, it became a lot more interesting.”

The Internet is the most versatile and far reaching tool for promoting art. Digital content can take all forms and be played on cell phones and computers all across the globe. In addition to the dedicated websites of both newspapers, Island artists can also draw on MV Online and Vineyard Patch.

“The marriage of art in the digital age makes it more accessible to people who may not be able to travel to it,” said Fredericka Carpenter of MV Online. “It’s been a fast moving train for the past 10 to 15 years. It doesn’t have to be a $3,000 video, there are podcasts, and all kinds of ways for artists to leverage the medium.”

Louisa Hufstader of Martha’s Vineyard Patch likened what she called the DIY culture of Internet marketing to the days of punk rock. “The Island often has a DIY culture — do it yourself. That was the motto of the punk movement. I think Patch does that. We publish 10 to 13 hours every day. Thousands of people read our newsletter. We also can post with our partners AOL and Huffington Post. We’re always happy to talk to people and to help them craft their digital message.”

When crafting a message, digital or otherwise, Greg Orcutt said that Vineyarders have an advantage when it comes to standing out in the media ether. “I Google Martha’s Vineyard and I see all these products that have nothing to do with the Vineyard. People don’t realize the value of this brand. There are people who don’t live here, but they want to know what’s going on here.”

Next Tuesday, the guest speakers will be Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and Massachusetts state representative Cory Atkins, co-chairman of the Tourism, Arts and Culture committee.

For more information about the Creative Economy Speaker Series, contact Nancy Gardella at the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce at 508-693-0085, ext. 16.