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Engage Now! An Arts Worker’s Guide to Deepening Experience and Strengthening Participation in the Arts

Prepared for the Arts Experience Initiative in Pitttsburgh by Gerald Yoshitomi

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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This report aims to provide a guide to increasing arts participation, with a particular eye to the meaning and values involved in arts participation. Participants’ perceptions, benefits, barriers and experiences are the key factors in the report’s behavioural framework of arts participation.

The author argues that background characteristics, such as socio-demographic characteristics, personality, past experience and social or cultural identity, play only a partial role in arts participation. “Such attributes describe participants, but they do not determine participation.” This line of reasoning is consistent with other statistical and arts education research that shows that socio-demographic characteristics explain only a portion of arts participation. Demographic determinism is not appropriate when it comes to the arts.

This being said, personal attributes do play a role, by helping to “shape an individual’s personal beliefs and his or her perceptions of social norms. These, in turn, determine a person’s attitudes (or predisposition) toward arts participation.” Arts organizations are encouraged to recognize that “each person benefits differently from the same arts event”. Since the benefits of participation are many and varied, attempts to increase participation should also be many and varied. Organizations “must provide a specific benefit sought by a particular participant at a particular moment.” The report argues that “mass customization strategies” can be used to achieve this goal. Clearly, significant amounts of research would be required to identify participants’ experiences and beliefs as well as individualized techniques to reach them.

After a decision is made to participate, the experience (which is not limited to the “art” itself) must live up to expectations. “The deeper, richer and more positive the experience, the higher the inclination to increase participation in the future (through attendance, contributions, volunteerism, etc.) and to encourage others to attend.” Organizations should allocate resources to enhancing participants’ experiences as well as to selling more tickets. In addition, participant surveys should attempt to capture what participants felt was meaningful or transformative about an arts event (and why).

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