ArtsMail: Throwback Thursday Edition

ArtsBoston has been a fixture in the Greater Boston arts and culture scene for over 40 years. In that time, the organization has gone through a number of geneses while always maintaining our commitment to giving you the most comprehensive and informative round-up of arts and cultural events.

In honor of today being National Mail Order Catalog Day (yes, there is such a thing), we wanted to do a little #tbt to one of the first ArtsBoston programs: ArtsMail!

August 18th is believed to commemorate the first production (or mailing, depending on the source) of the first mail order catalog in the United States, published in Chicago by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872. This kind of marketing strategy forever changed the way in which companies could directly communicate with customers.

ArtsBoston was founded as a coalition of arts organizations to promote Boston’s cultural offerings. Our early programs included the first half-price, day-of-show ticket booth outside of New York City, with our ArtsBoston BosTix booth in Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which you can still visit and purchase tickets from! To complement in-person, day-of-performance ticket sales, we created the monthly ArtsMail catalog which featured advance sales at a discount to invite people to sample new companies and attend the arts more frequently.

The first ArtsMail listings were single sheets with discount offerings. The full catalog version soon became an eagerly awaited item, not just for its deals, but as a comprehensive overview of what was happening in the Boston cultural landscape.

ArtsMail was a way to let arts-enthusiasts know about the latest shows at a major theater such as the Huntington or the American Repertory Theater, as well as to learn about the new companies, such as SpeakEasy Stage Company, The Theater Offensive, and Company One, which were just emerging. Having these listings side-by-side gave a sense of imprimatur to the newer companies, and allowed for the organizations and patrons alike to look comprehensively at all of the event offerings, and to sample new opportunities.

Being on the cover of ArtsMail was a highly coveted position. There are stories of companies trying to woo staff members with chocolate or wine in order to get their production featured on the cover. However, it all came down to one thing: compelling artwork. Throughout its years, the cover art rotated through music, dance and theater, large and small companies alike, reaffirming ArtsBoston’s commitment to supporting all art in the region.

Customers receiving ArtsMail would cut out coupons for the performances they wished to see, and mail them back to ArtsBoston to process. This meant committing to shows 2-3 months IN ADVANCE – something that we can hardly relate to in our fast-paced, internet-based world.

With the advent of online commerce, ArtsBoston migrated ArtsMail online and into what we now know as BosTix Deals on the ArtsBoston calendar. Though the form has changed to adapt to the times and remain innovative, this is still, at its core, our way of providing you with the most opportunities to sample more cultural offerings, for the best deals.

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