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By Fractured Atlas on July 9th, 2016

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Book Recommendation: The Art of Relevance

Big Ideas | Tips and Tools | Arts | Diversity And Inclusion | Social Entrepreneurship

New book for your summer reading list: The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon (photo by Lisa Niedermeyer)

The title of Nina Simon’s new book, The Art of Relevance, perfectly sets up our expectations as a reader. It could have been titled The Ultimate Guide to Relevance, or 10 Steps to Being More Relevant, but Simon would never choose such titles because she understands relevance is a moving target. Framing the pursuit of relevance as an art primes us to seek insights into process.

Many of you already know Nina’s work from her popular blog Museum 2.0, her best selling book The Participatory Museum or her TEDx Talk Opening Up the Museum. However, for those of you who don’t recognize the name, here is all you need to know in order to be interested in this book’s author — Nina is hungry for accountability. It is not enough to just talk about building relevance in diverse communities, she is deeply invested in what actually works and holding oneself accountable.

Before reading this book my working definition of ‘relevance’ was something along the lines of ‘to be relevant you must be in tune with the current environment; you are topical and timely’. Simon replaces such milk-toast definitions of relevance with the following:

Relevance is a key that unlocks meaning.

It opens doors to experiences that matter to us,

surprise us, and bring value into our lives.

If we believe the products, services and experiences we create are relevant to a certain audience, but we aren’t unlocking new meaningful experiences for that audience, we aren’t in fact relevant to them at all. Take a moment to let that truly sink in. Many of us are likely attempting to market to, invite, and build for specific communities, but are we unlocking new information that is meaningful to the lives of those individuals? What would it look like if we did? What does it take to authentically do it well? How might the pursuit of relevance change us? What is the danger of irrelevance? The Art of Relevance is an opportunity to learn from others stories and Simon’s thoughtful framing.

As I read the book I dog-eared page after page, making notes of the people in my world that I wanted to share the a-ha’s with. Here are the groupings those folks fell into, I highly recommend this book to:

  • People designing new experiences (artists, software developers, curators).
  • People leading efforts around equity and inclusion (arts admins, founders, board members).
  • People advocating for the intersection of communities (disability + dance, museum + homeless, lgbt + race).
  • People tuning into potential for scalable relevance (philanthropists, investors, entrepreneurs).

The Art of Relevance is an engaging, 196 page read, anchored with stories and examples ranging from small artist-led community projects to large established institutions. (It’s worth noting 2 of the projects featured are Fractured Atlas members and past honorees of our Arts Entrepreneurship Award. Kudos to Museum of Impact and The Laundromat Project!).

While the e-book version offers the convenience of reading on the device of your choice, the printed version offers a bright key covered front, thoughtfully designed as a social object. What conversations might be sparked with a stranger on a plane, on a park bench, on your commute, because you are both curious about unlocking meaning?

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About Fractured Atlas

Fractured Atlas is a nonprofit organization that helps over 1.2 million artists of all stripes with the business aspects of their work.