Audience Development for the Arts

Audience Development
for the Arts

“The arts belong to everyone.” That was the conviction of our co-founder Lila Wallace. It has guided our efforts for more than two decades to support arts organizations as they develop and test innovative ideas to reach new audiences so that many more people might enjoy the benefits of the arts.
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​Audience Development Strategy Chart

The Problem

“The arts belong to everyone.” That conviction of The Wallace Foundation’s co-founder, Lila Wallace, has defined the foundation’s longstanding efforts to combat declining rates of participation in the arts so that more people experience arts’ benefits.

How We Are Tackling It

Our audience development strategy emerges from the idea that if arts organizations design audience-building techniques based on reliable data and analysis, they will be better able to cultivate more participation in the arts. The Wallace Excellence Awards initiative, therefore, supports exemplary arts organizations in six cities to craft and try out ways to reach more people, and also provides them with expert assistance in data use and thinking through a strategy. A crucial part of the initiative is to learn from the audience-building work of our grantees, find out what works and what doesn’t, and disseminate that information so many other arts groups can benefit from the lessons. Wallace has published the first four in a series of reports documenting the successes and challenges the arts organizations have faced in their efforts . In each city, we’ve also created “learning networks” in which our grant recipients and other arts organizations come together to share ideas about how to build participation in the arts – and raise the visibility of the issue. Since 2006, grants have gone to 54 arts organizations in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Some of the Research Informing Our Work

Our approach is grounded in principles laid out in two landmark Wallace-commissioned RAND Corporation reports. A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts suggests that building arts participation refers to one or more of three activities: “broadening” audiences (increasing their size); “deepening” them (enriching the experience of participants); or “diversifying” them (bringing new groups into the fold). Gifts of the Muse concludes that all the broader social benefits of the arts stem from people’s individual, rewarding encounters with art – and that arts organizations need to find ways to introduce more people to those experiences.

Our Grantees

Wallace has supported hundreds of arts organizations in its grant making. Our most recent initiative, the Wallace Excellence Awards, begun in 2004 and re-designed in 2006, aims to get more people more engaged in the arts. Wallace funding of about $65 million has included support for: projects in six cities by 54 arts organizations that received Wallace Excellence Awards to broaden, deepen or diversify their audiences; expert assistance to those organizations in matters such as how to measure the progress of their projects; local efforts to inform the grantees and other arts organizations about what is being learned through the work; and the publication of several reports.