Blogger Interview: Justin Fair

1 Nov

I recently conducted a phone interview University of Maryland alumni, Justin Fair over the phone who created the SoulStrong Arts blog and was the content manger for, and occasionally coordinates guest blog entries for MyGatewayArts. SoulStrong is a blog Justin created shortly after graduating form Maryland and focuses on the arts in the DC area, especially Prince Georges County. On the other hand MyGatewayArts’ goal is to be “a focal point for art activities of all types” for the Prince George’s County Gateway Arts and Entertainment District (pictured below).

The Prince George’s Gateway Arts District consists of four main towns: Mount Rainier, Brentwood, North Brentwood and Hyattsville.

My interview with Justin revolved primarily around art blogs, local influential art blogs, the advantages and weaknesses of blogging, other social media and last but not least, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (which, as a former Terp with a double degree in Studio Art and Theater, Justin is very familiar with). Below are the main questions I asked Justin and his (paraphrased) responses.

Q:How is the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center viewed by the arts community?

CSPAC is a potential “great asset” for the local arts community. It has a state-of-the-art facility and is a magnet for talent in the arts. However, it does little to reach out to or promote the local art community. Despite being a studio art and theater double major at Maryland, he was largely unaware of the Hyattsville art district, despite the close proximity to campus.  Justin also noted the un-utilized potential of CSPAC as a community better “community engine” for the arts. What Justin means by this promoting the local arts not only informs students and those following CSPAC of the local arts talents but, the local arts would in return promote CSPAC and draw more performers and potential students.

How can CSPAC use new media effectively?

Building off the previous question, CSPAC could better utilize social media by engaging and interacting with local arts in the Hyattsville arts district. Justin’s main point was if you reach out to the local arts, you’ll build a relationship and people will promote you if you promote them. Retweeting local acts builds the arts community and would garner promotion from the local arts community as well, bringing more people. Another concept Justin had for better using new media is keeping in touch with Maryland alumni. For example, by offering performing arts alumni free tickets in exchange for a blog post or even something as simple as a tweet would give CSPAC promotion. Keeping in touch with performing arts alumni would also bring in more performers or lecturers if those alumni stayed in the arts.

Any general advice for engaging your public?

Justin’s advice for engaging your community/public is to just go out and talk to people. If CSPAC sent a representative to local arts events, not only will it express CSPAC’s interest in the local arts, but adds credibility to CSPAC itself. As a result, because the community will see CSPAC’s commitment to the arts. From these relationships you build, asking local talent to write guest blogs for CSPAC is method of engaging your public with new media.

What other influential blogs could CSPAC reach out to?

Unfortunately, Justin didn’t believe there were many influential blogs devoted to the arts in the Prince Georges County area, although there are plenty of arts blogs devoted to DC arts. He thought a dedicated arts blog for the College Park area could drastically help the community and engagement of CSPAC and the community. Despite a generally weak local blogging community, Hyattsville Patch is a good launching point for arts blogs in the local area. Hyattsville Patch occasionally works with MyGatewayArts (which, Justin Works with).

As Justin alluded to in the first part of the interview, there is little community and engagement between CSPAC and the local arts. Justin believes the lack of actual community and engagement reflects on the state of the local blogging community as well.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of blogging about the arts?

Justin believed blogging was a great platform to creating change and fostering a community. In Justin’s opinion, the most important aspect of blogging in the content. The content must be of high quality for people to care. High quality content, on any platform shows the public that you are passionate about what you’re blogging/talking about and keep them coming back for more. As Justin mentioned before, it is unfortunate  that the College Park and Prince George’s County does not have a dedicated blog community for the public to connect with.

Another negative Justin cited for blogging about the arts was the lack of experience among bloggers. For example, Jason said people need to make sure to implement links, photos and videos into their blog posts. Justin said people are more likely to watch videos and look at photos than read a wall of text, so by using these elements, you can make blog entries more engaging for your public and gain more exposure.

That concludes my interview with Justin, I’d like to thank him for his time for this interview. Please check out MyGatewayArts, which Justin coordinates blog entries for.

Despite some initial hiccups, my interview with Justin gave me a new perspective on social media and how it can effect an organization and their public, both on a local and more wide-spread level. From this interview I gained an appreciation for what a blogging community can do for an actual community. If CSPAC and other local art blogs engaged one another, myself and Justin believe it would foster a better real life community. Much of Justin’s opinions and thoughts on CSPAC, social media and how the two interact could be put to use in growing CSPAC’s social media presence.

Through this interviewI became much more informed about the local arts community and its relationship with CSPAC. For example, I was completely unaware we had such a thriving art community so close to campus.  I only learned of the Gateway Arts district because of this interview with Justin. Originally we set up a face to face interview in the arts district. i was unfamiliar with the area and where he wanted to meet, so to become more knowledgable about the area, my girlfriend and I got dinner there a few nights before the scheduled interview. I was shocked that there was such a nice area around Hyattsville (after three years going to Maryland (one living in Hyattsville) my opinion of the area was, well, lets just say “not the highest”) that catered to the arts. Because a scheduling issue occurred, and Justin and I had to conduct the interview over the phone, I have yet to return to the arts district, though I plan to soon.  What’s most surprising is that the students of CSPAC are also unaware of this arts community, despite the close proximity to campus. I believe the student’s lack of knowledge about this great, close resource is a direct result of CSPAC not engaging with their community physically and on new media. Instead, the arts district is a mythical, Narnia-esque place CSPAC students would love to visit and become more involved with. Like Justin, I now think that if CSPAC would reach out and engage the local arts district, students would be more informed about their local art community and potentially bring in new talent, and more importantly attendees to CSPAC.

Like I said, I learned a lot during my interview with Justin, however there are some aspects of my interview that I would have ultimately liked to have changed. First, I ideally would have liked to conduct the interview in person, instead of over the phone, I was forced to do the interview over the phone due to a last minute scheduling conflict between Justin and I. I would have liked to ask Justin about how CSPAC (or any other organization) can be more engaging on specific other social media platforms other than blogging. I personally think CPSAC can improve its use of Facebook and Twitter, and I would have liked to gain his insight on how to effectively use those platforms.

That said, I did learn a lot.

Additionally, it was both exciting and interesting to see my classroom experiences ring true with what much of Justin was saying. Justin echoed a lot of my personal experience and what I have learned in the classroom about how to effectively engage your public on new and social media. Justin’s main point of how to effectively engage your public over social media is high quality, sincere content. I couldn’t agree more. If you become a great resource for your public, they’re going to come back to get their information. Justin and I mutually agree that the use of photos and videos in any social media platform, not just blogging, is vital to be engaging and have people actually view all of your content. The bottom line is people are lazy and have short attention spans and they are far more likely to watch your video or look at a picture than read your wall of text (This begs the question, “why am i writing this?”). If CSPAC posted images and/or videos of their events, they could engage their audiences much more effectively and help create a community.

The most striking piece of social media I took from my interview Justin was the lack of an arts blog community dedicated to this (newly discovered) arts district in Hyattsville. I would assume because of the strength of the arts community, a online community would follow. I believe the lack of online community about the local arts in general hurts the actual community. Social media is one of the most effective methods of promotion today, not utilizing it stunts the growth of a community.

Some of the blame for this lack of social media community can be placed on CSPAC. CSPAC is a great resource for the local arts and yet it does nothing to reach out to the local community. This is evident by its own students being unaware of the arts district. Something as simple as retweeting or blogging about a local show could help the local arts. I believe if CSPAC took it upon itself to help uplift the local arts community, it could make a serious difference in the exposure of the community and CSPAC’s exposure to the community, which ultimately helps both sides.

Justin Fair brought a lot of information about blogging about the arts to the table. His level of insight comes purely from the experience he’s gained from going out to shows, engaging with his public and putting killer content on his blogs.

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