Wallace Studies Offer 21st Century Answers for Audience Engagement

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Feb 15, 2012 0 comments

Tim Mikulski

Late last year, the Wallace Foundation released a series of studies under the banner "Wallace Studies in Building Arts Audiences."

The series includes four case studies highlighting examples of audience engagement with new and younger audiences without alienating loyal and long-time constituencies.

The four case studies run the arts discipline gamut from the San Francisco Girls Chorus to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Boston Lyric Opera, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Each study is available for downloading and three of the four include online extras that help further illustrate the organizations' work.

Here's a quick rundown on the case studies:

More Than Just a Party -- "Senior management gave a team of young middle managers the authority to plan and run an evening event aimed at both attracting more 18-34-year-olds and encourage them to engage with the art. Through a series of inventive steps, from hosting games that enabled exploration of the artworks to using hip, young volunteers, the team created a program that exceeded expectations."

Cultivating the Next Generation of Art Lovers -- "[Boston Lyric Opera] would take its abridged operas used in school programs, and turn them into high-quality productions for families...the family performances would feature not only professionals singers, but also an orchestra and new costumes, props, and sets...Post-show surveys revealed the majority of adult attendees were opera fans who wanted to introduce their children to the art form, thus meeting two of [their] goals---providing children with their first experience of opera and creating opportunities for their busy parents to attend performances."

Building Deeper Relationships -- "Performing arts organizations across the country are grappling with falling subscription renewal rates and a troubling decline in total subscriber numbers...Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company has approached this problem by trying to develop deeper relationships with both subscribers and non-subscribers. It has launched a concerted effort to help all ticket buyers feel a greater sense of belonging to the organization, regardless of whether or not they are season subscribers...Audience members take part in nightly postshow discussions, attend special thematic events, and enjoy a rich selection of online content---including multiple videos, podcasts,blogs, articles, and slide shows---in which the artists discuss their work from multiple perspectives."

Attracting an Elusive Audience -- "The San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) found itself struggling to diversify beyond 'friends and family' audiences. Despite producing high-quality, award-winning vocal music, SFGC had difficulty attracting large numbers of classical music patrons to its concert series in the San Francisco Bay Area. Focus group research revealed that classical music patrons were generally unaware of the artistic potential of girls choruses in general, and the SFGC in particular. Determined to improve its local image and awareness to match its performance level, SFGC has embarked on a focused rebranding campaign. The Chorus is overhauling its marketing materials, finding new performance venues, and refining the way it presents its choral programming to project better the image of a world-class performing arts organization."

Only through this type of creative philanthropy can we continue to grow the arts sector, particularly in the realm of audience engagement, and I applaud the Wallace Foundation for lending their support to offering new answers to age-old problems.

Do you have any additional examples of 21st century audience engagement?

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