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Wallace Studies in Building Arts Audiences

February 21, 201221 February 2012

Arts attendance and participation

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With the perspective that “we are witnessing a dynamic shift in [cultural] participation, both in amount and in form”, this series of case studies was prepared to help arts organizations attract and engage new audiences, in order to help secure their artistic and financial sustainability.

The case studies examine efforts to increase participation in four American arts organizations, including a choir, a theatre company, an opera company and a museum. The reports delve into turning single-ticket purchasers into repeat attendees, generating interest and participation among young adults, creating opportunities for families to attend the opera, and countering stereotypes concerning classical music audiences. The case studies are:

  • Attracting an Elusive Audience: How the San Francisco Girls Chorus Is Breaking Down Stereotypes and Generating Interest Among Classical Music Patrons
  • Building Deeper Relationships: How Steppenwolf Theatre Company Is Turning Single-Ticket Buyers Into Repeat Visitors
  • Cultivating the Next Generation of Art Lovers: How Boston Lyric Opera Sought to Create Greater Opportunities for Families to Attend Opera
  • More Than Just a Party: How the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Boosted Participation by Young Adults

While the reports caution that the case studies cover different topics and were not “scientifically controlled experiments”, there are some general principles that were identified through the examination of the four case studies:

  1. “Market research can sharpen engagement-strategy development and execution.” Listening to audiences can help organizations better understand the experiences that audience members are seeking. Organizations will then be better equipped to meet their visitors’ desires. “Listening to participants can provide observations needed to create innovative, creative, and deeply engaging programs.”
  2. “Audiences are open to engaging the arts in new and different ways”, such as unique social gatherings, opportunities for critical thinking and dialogue around an art form, interactive and educational programs, and sophisticated visual communications.
  3. “Participation-building is ongoing, not a one-time initiative.” The organizations in the case studies continue to fine tune and alter their programs, based on visitor experiences to date.
  4. “Audience-building efforts should be fully integrated into every element of an organization, not a separate initiative or program.” This can help provide attendees with an authentic experience that resonates with them.
  5. “Mission is critical. Programs that emerge from an organization’s mission, when that mission is clear and supported throughout the organization, develop in an environment in which they can thrive.”

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