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Encourage Audience Development

    The term “audience development” is a broad term that applies to all consumers and participants in arts experiences.  Symphony-goers, gallery browsers, craft buyers and flash mob dancers are all “audience members.”  As outlined in Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy by Laura Zakaras and Julia F. Lowell, while the supply of and access to the arts has dramatically increased over the last few decades, the demand for the arts has decreased, leaving arts organizations large and small struggling to survive. Read the entire report, specifically pages 28-31 and 121-128 for key points and what's at stake.

    John Cusano, Community Development Coordinator for CT DECD’s Arts Office noted that because of television shows like The X Factor, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, “some people want to create art themselves, they want to be involved.”  Creating this kind of interactive experience for audience members places an even greater burden on arts organizations, requiring them to spend more outreach time educating audiences.

    Cusano’s theory on the necessity of audience education is evidenced in a study conducted by the Oliver Wyman consulting firm and nine major symphony orchestras across the country.   The “Audience Growth Initiative”1 focused on the barriers that keep first-time classical music ticket buyers from becoming concert regulars.

    It was an intriguing question for Martin Kon, who leads the global media and entertainment practice at Oliver Wyman and heads its New York offices. Kon had studied the problem of churn in other industries, from theme parks to mobile phone services, and saw some parallels that weren’t immediately obvious to orchestras. “It’s all about understanding what makes customers behave the way they do. What is it that customers value, and what’s important to them that causes them to leave, or to come back again?” Kon asks. “This is the same thing that can be done, amusingly enough, with theme parks, retail banking, telecommunications, or airlines. What is it about the experience that will make someone decide to buy an annual pass to Six Flags or Disneyland, or fly Virgin Atlantic vs. British Airways, or decide to subscribe to the orchestra? Yes, the people are different and the product is a little different, but the actual concept is not dissimilar.”2   Nor is it dissimilar to dance or theatre or gallery attendance.

    In the Audience Growth Initiative “Churn Report” Oliver Wyman identifies three common marketing mistakes that orchestras make.  With some minor tweaking, these mistakes have been standard marketing procedures for many arts organizations over the past few decades.

  1. Asking concertgoers to marry them right after the first date (aggressively pushing large packages to trialists 3). Calling a concertgoer the night after their first concert to offer them a subscription might result in a few quick sales, but many people are turned off by such aggressive telemarketing approaches. Many orchestras automatically have their telemarketing group contact customers several times in the week after a concert, soliciting subscription sales and donations. But more trialists will be retained by ditching this hard-sell and offering newcomers appropriate offers, such as killer promotions4 for single tickets.
  2. Failing to nurture and build a relationship with first-time customers. By cultivating newcomers, orchestras can increase the number of concerts they attend their first year and, as their familiarity with symphony orchestra music grows, improve the chances that trialists will become long-time customers who buy packages and become donors. Getting first-timers to return even one or two more times during a season increases their likelihood of returning the following season from 10% to 50%.
  3. Ignoring the importance of the symphony orchestra experience – and their own operational excellence. The music is important, but trialists also care about the experience. A customer’s impression of the orchestra is shaped from when they begin researching the hall to when they sit down for a drink after the concert, and all the steps in between. Conveniences (ticket exchanges, parking), social opportunities (a “destination” concert hall bar, orchestra receptions), and even information on what to wear – all matter to trialists.

One local orchestra has taken that research to heart. During the 2010-11 season, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra tapped into the expertise of Jack McAuliffe, who was a catalyst in the Wyman Study. The result? More than 580 new subscribers. Read more...

Many organizations undertake targeted efforts to develop new audiences, focused on growing the audience for a particular event but actually part of a larger effort to grow and sustain new audience.  Often based on assessing current audience trends and/or piggybacking with timely opportunities, organizations launch efforts to connect with a particular group.

For example, in 2012 Long Wharf Theatre  offered the “I Am” initiative, in conjunction with its production of MY NAME IS ASHER LEV.  Long Wharf asked high school students to draw at least one of three kinds of self-portraits:  your public self, your private self and your future self.  This project ties directly with ASHER LEV, which is about a teenage, gifted painter whose artistic ambitions collide with his Jewish Orthodox upbringing.  By encouraging student participation, Long Wharf hopes to have created a deeper level of engagement with the themes in the play, while developing audiences on two levels: short term- encouraging kids to share their experiences with their parents and bring them to Long Wharf and long term - showing how plays can be relevant and timely, inspiring students to eventually become theatre-goers as they mature.

The New Haven Chorale is another local arts organization that has developed strategies to build audience and community awareness to keep chorale music, and classical music in general, alive for current and future generations.  One strategy to attract new audiences is the presentation of special themed concert programs, celebrating the musical traditions of significant groups within the greater New Haven community, including ethnic and religious traditions. Examples include concerts about: Black History Month, choral music from Hungary and France, and Jewish sacred choral music.  In June 2012, the Chorale will present a multi-media program that explores contemporary South American choral music and poetry through a collaboration with guest ensemble, The Alturas Duo, and other invited soloists. This innovative program will attract a very diverse audience with its ground-breaking blend of media and its celebration of Latin American music and poetry that represents an important tradition in New Haven's population.  Another creative audience development strategy introduced the Chorale to an audience of over 40,000 television viewers, many of whom were hearing and seeing the Chorale perform for the first time. The Chorale feels that this is the kind of outreach that must be done to create the exposure it needs, in a way that makes economic sense.

Indeed “destination” may be the key word to audience development in the decade to come.  The State of Connecticut is redirecting its arts funding from general operating support for more than 200 organizations, large and small, throughout the state to a program of “creative placemaking,” anticipating a higher level of funding going to a smaller group, approximately 50 organizations.  Cusano says this initiative will promote “the heritage and cultural assets of urban centers, making places where people and corporations want to be; where education is respected; where 35 year-olds will want to settle and have a family.”  This is audience development in a broad, systemic sense – striving to integrate the arts into every day life to bolster the vibrancy of a community.
1 Audience Growth Initiative: Detailed findings and recommendations, Oliver Wyman, June 12, 2008.
2 Into Thin Air by Rebecca Winzenried, League of American Orchestras, Symphony Magazine, Jan-Feb 2009.
3 Trialists are defined as first-timer ticket buyers who attend one concert and don’t come back
4 "Killer promotions" are defined as offering prime night tickets with deep discounts, the best programming, free exchanges and/or parking/drink vouchers

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
March 2012

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What The Community Foundation is doing:

For three generations, The Community Foundation has provided millions of dollars in general operating, programmatic and sponsorship support for the arts. Over the past 10 years (2001-2011) alone, $3.6 M has been awarded to support a diversity of artistic forms and genres such as:

Indeed, there have been many ways The Community Foundation has supported local arts organizations over its long history. Here are just a few: 

  • establishing an Arts Fund in 1980 with support of community arts groups
  • helping revive the once-closed Shubert in 1984 with a 1:1 match grant establishing the Shubert Performing Arts Center permanent endowment
  • helping to launch (and providing ongoing support for) the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in 1996
  • helping to fund eight organizations to get much needed financial and technical assistance through an Arts Stabilization Project
  • funding arts in education to provide educational and growth opportunities for youngsters, through grants to organizations such as the Eli Whitney Museum  
  • funding the Community Arts Resource Program for K-8 students in the New Haven Public Schools between 1981 - 1997 
  • supporting the New Pathways New Haven project helping local arts organizations incubate and test innovative strategies to address complex challenges

What you can do:

If you love the arts, share that enthusiasm with friends, family and others. Bring someone with you to the next performance, exhibit or fundraiser. Introduce them to an arts organization they don't know. Encourage them to visit® to find, learn about and support local arts nonprofits. Or create a designated fund to support a favorite arts organization in perpetuity. Already have a fund at The Community Foundation? Login to DonorCentral and make a grant recommendation. 


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