Encourage Audience Development

The importance of cultivating the next generation of arts enthusiasts has long been understood in Greater New Haven.

New Haven Symphony Orchestra's Young People's Cocerts provides music education and cultivates a new generation of music lovers. Photo Credit: New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Decades of public, institutional, and individual funding has led to a proliferation of symphonies, dance companies, theaters, and museums across the country. But the seats at the major cultural and arts institutions in many cities and regions are going empty as audience attendance is trending downward1.

The reasons are various. Traditional audiences are aging. Organizations have not stayed relevant. And years of cuts to arts education programs have left many in the younger generations without the exposure needed to cultivate an appreciation for the arts, shrinking ranks of future patrons. As a result, public agencies and corporate sponsors are finding it increasingly difficult to justify their continued funding levels.

The key to reversing this trend, and ensuring a vibrant future for the arts, lies with education.

"Demand for the arts can be cultivated by teaching people of all ages how to enjoy and understand works of art," The Rand Corporation3.

Greater New Haven: Ahead of the Curve

The importance of cultivating the next generation of arts enthusiasts has long been understood in Greater New Haven. Arts-in-education is a significant portion of the programming of many arts organizations including: New Haven Symphony, Creative Arts Workshop, the International Festival, Neighborhood Music School, the Shubert Theater, New Haven Museum, Long Wharf Theatre, Young Audiences/Arts for Learning, and Elm Shakespeare.

In-school residencies and performances, classroom integration of the arts into the core curriculum, and after-school and agency-based lessons are available throughout the region, with discounts and scholarships available to all levels of student need.

Newer organizations such as a Broken Umbrella Theater bring their productions to new audiences in unconventional but public venues, such as the public library and public buses.

The need for change

In the effort engage new adult audiences, some arts organizations are capitalizing on the popularity of reality contest television shows like American Idol, The X Factor, and So You Think You Can Dance.

"Some people want to create art themselves, they want to be involved," says John Cusano, Community Development Coordinator for CT DECD's Arts Office. Creating an interactive experience for audience members places an even greater burden on arts organizations, requiring them to spend more outreach time educating audiences, adds Cusano.

Getting new audiences hooked with affordable tickets and enjoyable experiences is also key, according to The Audience Growth Initiative4. Known as the "Churn Report," the report written by the global media and entertainment management consulting firm, Oliver Wyman, draws parallels between orchestras and businesses such as theme parks and mobile phone services.

"It's all about understanding what makes customers behave the way they do," says Martin Kon, co-head of Oliver Wyman's Communications, Media & Technology practice. "What is it that customers value, and what's important to them that causes them to leave, or to come back again?5."

The New Haven Symphony Orchestra acted on that research during the 2010-11 season when it hired the consultant Jack McAuliffe of Engaged Audiences, LLC, who was a catalyst for the Wyman Study. In the first year after it developed an audience acquisition plan with McAuliffe, the symphony added more than 580 new subscribers.

Organizations also develop their audiences through a focus on a particular event. In 2012, the Long Wharf Theatre offered the "I Am" initiative in conjunction with its production of My Name is Asher Lev, about a gifted teenage painter whose artistic ambitions collide with his Jewish Orthodox upbringing. High school students were asked to draw at least one of three kinds of self-portraits: a public self, private self, and future self. By encouraging student participation, Long Wharf created a deeper level of engagement with the themes in the play while also developing audiences on two levels. In the short term it encouraged kids to share their experiences with their parents and bring them to Long Wharf. In the long term it inspired students to eventually become regular theatergoers.

The New Haven Chorale keeps chorale music, and classical music in general, alive for current and future generations with its themed concerts that celebrate the diverse ethnic and religious musical traditions in Greater New Haven. Recent concert themes include: Black History Month, choral music from Hungary and France, and Jewish sacred choral music. In June 2012, the Chorale celebrated Latin American traditions with a multi-media program that explored contemporary South American choral music and poetry.


Creating a destination for audiences will be an important strategy for area arts organizations to attract state funding. The State of Connecticut has redirected its arts funding away from general operating support for more than 200 organizations to a program of "creative placemaking," a higher level of funding going to approximately 50 organizations. Cusano says this initiative promotes "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."

What The Community Foundation is Doing

Funding includes general operating, programmatic and sponsorship support for a diversity of artistic forms including:

  • Performances by the New Haven Ballet
  • Plays at the Shubert and Long Wharf theaters and Elm City ShakespeareConcerts from the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Chorale and the New Haven Folk Festival
  • Exhibits at the Creative Arts Workshop, Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Artspace.

The Community Foundation has supported variety of initiatives including:

  • Establishing the 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
  • Providing the Shubert $250,000 in 2013 toward the Centennial Plan renovation project.
  • Helping launch (and continuing to provide 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
  • Supporting the New Pathways New Haven project in partnership with Arts Council of Greater New Haven in 2010, helping local arts organizations incubate and test innovative strategies to address complex challenges and build capital

Works Cited

1. Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy The Rand Corp., 2008

2. The Public Funding for the Arts: 2012 Update published in the Grantmakers in the Arts Reader confirms the trends nationally. It reports a 6% decline in appropriations to the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012 as compared to 2011. It also cites an 18% decline from 2008 to 2012 in arts spending by local governments, and a 27% decrease in state funding during the same time period.

3. Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy, p. 96, The Rand Corporation (2008).

4. Audience Growth Initiative: Detailed findings and recommendations, Oliver Wyman, June 12, 2008.

5. Into Thin Air by Rebecca Winzenried, League of American Orchestras, Symphony Magazine, Jan-Feb 2009.

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
March 2012