Q: What is The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability arts initiative?
A: This six-year, $52-million initiative is designed to help 26 outstanding performing arts organizations across the United States develop approaches to attract new audiences and retain existing ones, while benefitting the broader field through knowledge developed from their efforts.

Q: What is the goal of this new initiative?
A: Building on the success of earlier Wallace arts efforts, Building Audiences for Sustainability consists of two related parts:

  • Providing direct grants to performing arts organizations: The initiative provides significant multi-year support to 26 exemplary arts organizations, whose artistic vision and mission involve the engagement of new audiences toward a long-term goal of strengthening their organizations.
  • Building and sharing new knowledge: It also seeks to understand and share useful evidence and experience from these organizations on whether and how they can achieve and sustain audience gains in a way that contributes to their overall financial health.

Over the next four years, each organization will execute at least two “continuous learning cycles” of audience-building projects.  A Wallace-commissioned independent evaluation will study and capture their experiences and accomplishments in a series of public reports and guides that will be made available for free downloading on the Wallace website, as well as those of arts service organizations , with which we have partnered.  In this way, the initiative aims both to strengthen the participating arts organizations and to generate knowledge to benefit the broader field.

Q: What exactly is a “continuous learning cycle”?
A: The foundation has structured the initiative around “continuous learning cycles.” Participating arts organizations will conduct initial audience research into their target audiences; develop and carry out a new, first cycle audience-building project; conduct additional audience research and study the results; and then use the findings to adapt and implement a second cycle of programs. Each organization will execute at least two cycles within the first four years of the six-year initiative.  Some organizations may include more than two cycles within the funded period.  A cycle may or may not align with a performance season.

Q: What does the pool of 26 selected arts organizations look like?
A: There are a mix of dance, orchestra, opera, theater and multidisciplinary arts presenting organizations from the northeastern, southern, mid-western and far western parts of the continental U.S.  Their annual budgets range from $1.5 million to more than $20 million. Nine received grants in the foundation’s predecessor initiative to this one, the Wallace Excellence Awards; 18 did not.
The targets of their proposed audience-building projects include racial and ethnic groups (African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos), age-cohorts (primarily millennials), and people working in specific sectors (technology and design).
Their strategies involve commissioning new art that would resonate with target groups; involving target audience members in the creation and/or selection of works to be performed; holding events where audience members can gather and learn more about the art; and staging works in churches, black-box theaters and other venues outside the main performance hall.

Roughly half of the selected organizations fell into each of the following two categories:

  • Those that sought to build audiences through the experience of the art itself. They proposed to create art in new ways, to establish new artistic programs or to present art in different ways.
  • Those that sought to build audiences through supportive engagement programs to make existing art more relevant to audiences or to increase audiences’ understanding of the art.

Q: How does the initiative work?
A: Over a period of four years (2015–2019), the 26 arts organizations will design and carry out audience-building projects that focus on their artistic programming. Projects range from developing new works of art, to presenting art in new ways or different venues, to supporting engagement activities such as the use of social media to interact with potential new audiences. Each organization will complete at least two cycles of work (a cycle may or may not correspond with a season), with the second cycle incorporating what it has learned from the first cycle.
We will also provide assistance in audience research so organizations can develop a clear understanding of the impact of their projects on existing and prospective audiences, as well as in organizational development so they can ensure that all departments work together effectively on the projects.

Over a period of six years (2015–2021), the arts organizations’ funded work will be the basis for developing new knowledge about how audience building can be both effective and sustainable. We will commission a series of independent public reports drawing on the experience of and evidence generated by the participating arts organizations, and building on the insights shared in reports from earlier Wallace initiatives. The goal is to help all arts organizations strengthen their own efforts.

Q: How will the success of the programs be measured?
A: The primary measure of success will be a net growth in the organizations’ audience size through new attendees returning and sufficient numbers of current audiences continuing their engagement. A secondary measure will be the net financial contribution of audience-building efforts to the organization. We will provide funding for organizations to retain audience research consultants that will help track and measure gains in the specific areas of audience engagement that they are targeting. These data will be sources for the Wallace-commissioned independent study that will look across all organizations participating in the initiative.

Q: How will Wallace share the findings from the new initiative?
The arts service organizations are: American Alliance of Museums, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Dance USA, League of American Orchestras, Opera America, and Theatre Communications Group, all of which have been actively pursuing audience-building agendas. A partnership with the Association of Arts Administration Educators will help make this knowledge available for use in graduate and undergraduate programs that prepare future arts leaders.

In addition, the video recording of the October 2014 livestreamed announcement is available to view on the Wallace’s ThrivingArts.org web pages.  Edited segments of the one-hour program include introductory remarks by foundation president Will Miller; and a panel discussion on audience-building with Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts; Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Kelly Tweeddale, executive director of the Seattle Opera; and James Houghton, founding artistic director of the Signature Theatre Company. The discussion was moderated by Kurt Andersen, novelist and host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program Studio 360.


Q: Can arts organizations still apply for a grant?
A: No. Wallace sought proposals for the Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative from a group of performing arts organizations identified through a national nomination process, which has culminated in the selection of 26 participants. Across all our work, we typically fund selected organizations to test promising new ideas, to conduct independent research about their efforts, and to share what we learn. The idea is to benefit both the limited number of organizations we have the resources to support directly, as well as the many other organizations that are interested in pursuing similar changes but that may never receive our direct funding. We believe this approach strengthens the effectiveness of our funding, but it also means that the foundation rarely funds unsolicited proposals.

Q: How did you identify prospective grant recipients?
A: A team of independent consultants interviewed more than 50 leaders in the arts, including funders, art service organizations, academics and consultants, who nominated 369 performing arts organizations. From that list, based on a mix of geography, size, discipline and – most importantly – audience goals, we identified approximately 87 prospective grantees to receive requests for proposals, and 86 responded. Their proposals were reviewed by a panel of five external experts and Wallace staff, resulting in the selection of 26 arts organizations, announced in April 2015.

Q: What were the criteria for selection to participate in the initiative?
A: Selected organizations were drawn from dance, music (including opera, orchestra, and small ensembles), theater and performing arts presenters. The selection criteria included: recognition for artistic excellence, a focus on the work of professional artists, an annual budget of about $1.5 million or more, a recent record of interesting efforts in audience-building with room to learn more, and the ability to engage in a multi-year initiative.  In addition, we gave consideration to the overall portfolio of organizations to ensure that their audience-building projects would have relevant potential evidence and practical guidance to share with the field across a variety of disciplines, a range of U.S. communities and budget sizes.

Q: What were the criteria for awarding the grants?
A: We sought to build a diverse portfolio across the 26 participating arts organizations to simultaneously support their artistic vision and to yield a set of rich insights and experiences based on a sizeable sample of comparable organizations to share knowledge with the field. Our goal of benefitting many more organizations than we have the resources to fund directly is reflected in the selection of the grantees. Our selection resulted in a balanced mix across artistic disciplines, geography, size and audience-building goals.

Q: What role did the arts service organizations play in the process? Did they help select the applicants or organizations being considered to receive grants?
A: The arts service organizations (ASOs) – American Alliance of Museums, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Dance USA, League of American Orchestras, Opera America, and Theatre Communications Group – were among the list of more than 50 nominators who helped Wallace identify the pool of potential applicants. They did not, however, help select the organizations. The ASOs play a vital and ongoing role in the initiative, by disseminating the knowledge created so that the entire arts field can apply what is learned to their own audience-building practices.

Q: Why did the initiative increase in size from what was announced in October 2014?
A: Originally, we planned to fund up to 25 organizations that were invited to apply for total amounts of up to $1.25 million over four years to cover artistic programming and assistance in market research and organizational development, with some support to help with data collection for the final two years of the initiative. Based on the variety and quality of the proposals submitted, however, we decided (a) to increase our portfolio to include a pool of 26 organizations and (b) to increase the average grant size to match the scope of the undertakings proposed by the organizations. The impact of these decisions raised the estimated cost of the initiative over six years from about $40 million to about $52 million.

Q: How large will each grant be?
A: Individual grant size is determined on an organization-by-organization basis, taking into consideration both budget size and scope of the proposed projects.  Each organization will develop and implement an audience project over two “continuous learning cycles,” meaning that they will conduct initial audience research and then develop and implement a first cycle of work, study the results and, ultimately, conduct a second cycle incorporating lessons from the earlier one. Specific grant awards (see attached Appendix) will fund the first cycle that will last between 12 and 22 months or, in a few instances, the preliminary audience research necessary to complete the planning for the first cycle audience-building project.  Next phases of work will be funded through subsequent grants.

Q: Why are only performing arts organizations included? Will art museums be considered in the future?
A: Because museums face different challenges and opportunities in building audiences, we are not including them at this time. Museums operate in a fundamentally different way from performing arts organizations; most audiences for performances arrive at a specific hour for a given length of time, for example, while museum visitors can come any time the museum is open and stay for any length of time. Nonetheless, we aim to keep building a knowledge base of effective practices for all arts organizations. While we have no current plans for another initiative focused on art museums, we do not rule out this possibility in the future.


Q: Does the Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative signify a long-term commitment from Wallace to arts funding, or is it a one-time opportunity?
A: Supporting the arts is integral to our mission of fostering improvements in the vitality of the arts for everyone. Our commitment to the arts, which began during the lifetimes of our founding benefactors, Lila and DeWitt Wallace, will remain central to our work for the conceivable future (for more on this topic, see The Wallace Foundation’s History in the Arts).

Q: How does the new arts initiative relate to The Wallace Foundation’s previous arts funding initiatives?
A: The new initiative builds on Wallace’s experiences and knowledge developed over the past 25 years with our partners (also see: The Wallace Foundation’s History in the Arts), including the Wallace Excellence Awards initiative and highlights of some 50 reports, practical guides and journalistic accounts:

The Wallace Excellence Awards (WEA)

This initiative ran in two phases, from 2004 to 2014.  The second phase, beginning in 2008, provided grants of up to $750,000 to 54 arts organizations in six cities to carry out audience-building efforts, using audience research and data to design, evaluate and improve their programs. The results, based on the experiences of the 46 arts groups for which Wallace obtained reliable data, were very promising:

  • Across the 11 organizations that sought to increase the overall size of their audience, the median gain was 26 percent over approximately three years.
  • Across the 35 organizations seeking to increase the size of a particular audience segment, such as teens or families, the median gain was 60 percent over approximately three years.

The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences
Written by Bob Harlow, an expert in market research, and released in conjunction with the announcement of this initiative in October 2014, this report shares the strategies and practices of 10 of the WEA recipients. While the organizations are diverse across art form, geography and size, consistent among them are nine practices of success. The Road to Results shares those practices with real-life examples drawn from the organizations, and highlights the organizations' successes and failures in order to encourage and help others adopt evidence-based practices for effective audience-building work.

Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts
This acclaimed 2005 RAND report describes “intrinsic” benefits of the arts – such as opening people to new perspectives – as well as “instrumental” benefits, such as economic development. It concludes that the broader social benefits stem from people’s individual, rewarding encounters with art and that arts organizations need to find ways to introduce more people to those experiences.

A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts
This landmark RAND study from 2001 offers arts organizations ways to avoid hit-or-miss efforts at audience-building that waste scarce resources. It suggests that building arts participation refers to one or more of three activities: “broadening” audiences (increasing their size), “deepening” them (enriching the experience of current participants and increasing their participation), or “diversifying” them (bringing new groups into the fold). Once goals are set, the organization can identify a target population, gather data about the target population, and develop strategies and tactics appropriate to the target population and aligned with its mission.

The RAND Framework also explains that successful audience-building efforts require the sustained and coordinated commitment of an organization’s key staff and operating units, its board, and key funders. This requires an organization to articulate a clear set of audience goals that serve its mission and purpose and for which it can build internal consensus. Without this link, audience-building activities may be perceived as serving multiple and conflicting purposes or, even worse, as marginal to the organization’s real work. This systematic, integrated approach is a key feature in the new Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative.

Q. What is Wallace’s mission?
A. Our mission is to foster improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children, and the vitality of the arts for everyone. We seek to catalyze broad impact by supporting the development, testing, and sharing of new solutions and effective practices.

The 26 performing arts organizations selected are: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater,  New York; ASU Gammage, Tempe; Ballet Austin; Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Inc.; Cal Performances, Berkeley; Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; Denver Center Theatre Company; Goodman Theatre,  Chicago; La Jolla Playhouse; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Lyric Opera of Chicago; New York Philharmonic; Oakland East Bay Symphony; Opera Philadelphia; Opera Theatre of St. Louis; Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle; Pasadena Playhouse; Portland Center Stage, Oregon; San Francisco Performances; Seattle Opera; Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Steppenwolf Theatre Company; University Musical Society, Ann Arbor; Victory Gardens Theatre, Chicago; Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington D.C.; and World Music/CRASHart, Boston. See the Appendix for a more detailed list of these organizations.

Partner arts service organizations are: American Alliance of Museums, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Dance USA, League of American Orchestras, Opera America, and Theatre Communications Group, all of which have been actively pursuing audience-building agendas. In addition: Association of Arts Administration Educators will help share knowledge in graduate/undergraduate programs that prepare future arts leaders.

Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle