Audience Engagement: Working Toward a Definition
This report summarizes 25 interviews in the fall of 2008 with Dance/USA members regarding their understanding of the term “audience engagement” as well as their current audience engagement activities. While no single, definitive definition of audience engagement is put forward, the report does indicate that many dance professionals use the term “to indicate emerging practices and new attitudes about the inter-relationships between artists, presenters and audiences”.
These practices and attitudes go beyond traditional marketing, outreach and audience development in seeking to deepen the relationship between audiences and dance. Audience engagement typically attempts to educate and enlighten audiences, enhance the audience experience, build community, and/or build stronger connections between audience members and the organization.
Based on the interviews, Dance/USA notes that audience engagement:
· Is both educational and participatory;
· Results mainly in impacts, rather than simply attendance or ticket sales;
· Empowers “audiences to better appreciate and connect with the meaning and impact of the art experience”;
· “Transcends and interconnects” marketing, programming, education and outreach;
· Is actively two-directional; and
· “Involves innovation, risk and investment.”
Many audience engagement activities reflect an organization’s mission or purpose (such as being “a vital contributing factor in the community’s cultural life”). The types of audience engagement activities that American dance organizations currently employ include social activities, conversations, education, youth-focussed education or other activities, technology and media-based opportunities, community and interest group engagement, as well as behind-the-scenes experiences.