Judith H. Dobrzynski

 
Judith H. Dobrzynski is an award-winning journalist, based in New York, who specializes in writing about the arts, business, philanthropy and government and is published regularly in publications that include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York, Smithsonian, Forbes, Town & Country, The New Criterion, The Daily Beast, Conde Nast Portfolio, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and Art + Auction. She also blogs about culture in America at www.artsjournal.com/realcleararts, and is a member of the International Association of Art Critics, U.S. section.

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How Can Opera Draw Younger and More Diverse Crowds?GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61 <p>When tenor Joshua Blue gets together with friends, they sometimes kick around the same question nagging opera companies and other performing arts presenters everywhere: how to draw younger, more diverse audiences to the art form they love. They have a few ideas, including a radical one that would test their own powers of concentration.  </p><p>But let’s back up and meet Blue. The 24-year-old rising star, who this season is singing Alfredo Germont in “La Traviata” and as a soloist in “A Concert of Comic Masterpieces,” among other roles, at the Washington National Opera, precociously signaled his own interest in music at age 3, when he started plunking on the piano in his home after watching his sister practice. His mother decided to get him lessons, too. Once he was in school, a friend convinced him to join a choir group—both of his parents sang in choirs—and then “a teacher had me get exposed to every kind of vocal group there was.” He attended Waubonsie Valley High School, his local public school in Aurora, Il., which happens to have a Grammy Award-winning music program. On a choir group trip to Australia, Blue saw his first opera (“La Traviata”). Soon thereafter—as he was going into his senior year in high school—he decided that he wanted to be a professional opera singer.</p><p>But to state the obvious, “Historically, classical music wasn’t something that black families had access to,” Blue notes, and therefore they couldn’t teach their children about it. In the past, schools might have filled the gap, but nowadays, given the cuts in arts education funding, most kids just aren’t exposed to opera at all—unless, of course, opera companies take on the task. </p><p>If opera is to flourish, Blue says that opera companies must do that. He believes that they should go into schools, churches, community centers and the local YMCA, perhaps offering free one-hour sessions: “Instead of asking them to come to the opera, you have to take it to them in their own comfort zones.” He cites the Opera on the Go program of the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL), “where the performers are in jeans and polos,” as a good example. </p><p>OTSL, which receives funds from the Wallace Foundation through its Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/think-opera-is-not-for-you-opera-theatre-of-saint-louis-says-think-again.aspx">also offers a program called Opera Tastings, </a> where Blue has performed. At these events, which Blue lauds as a “low-pressure” way to introduce opera to those who are unfamiliar with it, people listen to live opera excerpts while they sample food and drink that is paired with the performances. </p><p>But even with such efforts, Blue says you can’t expect people to buy tickets right away. “If they’ve never gone, they don’t know if they are supposed to wear a suit, or buy a bottle of champagne, or what else to expect,” he says. And if they’ve seen only a one-hour concert version of “The Barber of Seville,” say, they are not going to buy $200 tickets to a full-blown production of it even if they loved it, he adds. Blue recommends offering lower-price tickets for initial purchasers. </p><p>Then Blue turns to that revolutionary idea: he thinks opera companies could offer one show per season that is “family-friendly.” People could bring their babies and children and be given the message: “We don’t care if they make noise, we’ll keep doing the presentation—we are taught to act with absolutely anything happening.” Blue says he knows people who cannot attend because they can’t get, or afford, a baby-sitter and they know their children will not keep quiet during a performance. This idea would address that issue for them. Wallace’s research over the last few decades has both documented that <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/breaking-the-practical-barriers-of-arts-participation.aspx?_ga=2.255114048.971312321.1546880470-1057583374.1513009179">such “practical barriers”</a> may factor into the considerations of many who might attend an arts event and discovered what some organizations are doing about it.</p><p>Blue also sees language as a problem for many would-be attendees. Sub- or super-titles simply do not solve the problem for some people who don’t like switching back and forth from the action to the words, he says. He wishes more companies performed in English, though he realizes that would annoy traditional opera-goers. </p><p>Blue also thinks that some opera companies are wrongly fiddling with programming to attract more diverse audiences: “They think, if we do ‘Porgy & Bess,’ we’ll get African-Americans.” And maybe they will—but he believes that the better way is to aim for diversity in casting. “You don’t need to do ‘Porgy & Bess’ to see more blacks in the audience; you should just hire a more diverse group of people for roles.”</p><p>“In a perfect world,” he adds, “you want your performers to reflect your audience; you want them to be just as diverse in age and gender and race as we are on stage.” This is necessary, he believes, because “people want to go and support people that remind you of yourself. That makes it easier to put yourself into the story, to make the emotional connection.” </p><p>“It is beginning to happen,” Blue says. “Opera will look completely different in 20 years. As shows and casts become more diverse you’ll see audiences follow suit. We are starting to see it. Diversity is a key factor in keeping opera alive.”</p> To see how other arts organizations are working to build and retain audiences, visit our <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/the-building-audiences-for-sustainability-stories-project.aspx">Building Audiences for Sustainability Stories page</a>. How Can Opera Draw Younger and More Diverse Crowds?https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Joshua-Blue-On-New-Audiences.aspx2019-01-08T05:00:00ZOne young tenor has some ideas to make the art form more accessible to new audiences
Countering Myths and Misperceptions of Participating in the ArtsGP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61 <p>​​“What would I wear?” That age-old question is not simply the whining of a teenager facing a monumental quandary despite a closetful of clothes. It’s one of the many questions that newcomers ask when deciding whether or not to partake of the arts.</p><p>Among the others: Will I know what to do? Will I see members of my peer group there? Will I feel included? Will I like it? Is it for me?</p><p>Over the last few decades, in the deep belief that the arts belong to everyone, The Wallace ​Foundation has funded audience-building initiatives at many arts organizations; it’s now in the middle of a six-year, $61.5 million <a href="/knowledge-center/the-arts/Pages/default.aspx" target="_blank">“Building Audiences for Sustainability”</a> program. Reviewing theoretical and data-driven research, along with practical experiences from arts organizations over the past 10 years, Wallace and its partners have developed a much better understanding of the reasons people choose to go, or not to go, to an arts performance or exhibition.</p><p>The decision is not a simple case of yes or no. It’s a series of decisions that could be construed as a journey with gates set up along the way. At each one, some people will choose to continue on, while others will drop out. At the first juncture, people tend to consider, usually subconsciously, many questions about their expectations of an arts opportunity—with answers that can be influenced by arts organizations intent on building their audiences.</p><p>Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture or more information; sometimes, more.</p><p>For example, because young people had told the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in focus groups that they didn’t know what to wear to an opera, OTSL posted pictures of audience members in all manner of dress, casual and fancy, on its Facebook and Instagram pages. That was one question taken care of, with a reassuring answer—wear what you want.</p><p>When <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/ballet-austin-building-audiences-for-sustainability.aspx" target="_blank">Ballet Austin</a> discovered that potential audience members were turned off by its promotional materials for contemporary works—and didn’t know what to expect, let alone if they would like it—the company changed tactics. It discontinued traditional open rehearsals, popular with regular attendees but not new people, and instead started Ballet Austin Live! That’s a 30-minute livestream of a rehearsal that allowed more, and different, people to see what a production might be like before they bought tickets.</p><p>To make sure that millennial visitors to the <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/isabella-stewart-gardner-museum-case-study-update.aspx" target="_blank">Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum</a> felt comfortable at its “Third Thursdays” evenings—which feature gallery games, music, hands-on artmaking, food, and drinks—the museum recruited volunteers from the same generation. They provide a welcoming, unintimidating presence, answer questions about the art on view, and sometimes even join in the games by offering helpful hints.</p><p><a href="/knowledge-center/pages/wallace-studies-in-building-arts-audiences-getting-past-its-not-for-people-like-us.aspx" target="_blank">Pacific Northwest Ballet</a>, which once was viewed by teens as boring and stuffy, conquered the “it’s not for me” syndrome with a raft of measures including teen-only previews of PNB’s annual choreographers showcase, increased Facebook activity about the company’s performances, and behind-the-scenes videos.</p><p>Changing attitudes—which is what these measures aim to do—isn’t always easy, especially if they were formed by a negative previous arts experience or are ingrained within a person’s social group. But with specific overtures to hesitant individuals or reluctant groups, some arts organizations are countering misperceptions that may prevent some people from attending an arts experience and attracting new audiences.</p><p><em>This three-post series outlines the Audience Journey, a conceptualization of people's decision-making process when choosing to attend an arts performance, exhibition or event. This post suggests ways organizations might engage people who are less inclined to attend or visit. The next two posts cover how to combat the <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/breaking-the-practical-barriers-of-arts-participation.aspx">practical barriers </a>of attending and how to create a <a href="http://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Encouraging-Frequent-Attendance-for-the-Arts.aspx">rewarding experience</a> that makes people want to return. All posts originally appeared on the National Arts Marketing Project's <a href="https://namp.americansforthearts.org/2018/10/16/the-road-to-participation-countering-misperceptions" target="_blank">blog</a> and are reprinted here with permission.</em></p>Countering Myths and Misperceptions of Participating in the Artshttps://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Countering-Myths-and-Misperceptions-of-the-Arts.aspx2018-10-26T04:00:00ZFirst in three-post series examines people's questions about arts experiences and how organizations can help answer them to build audiences
Taking Down the Practical Barriers of Arts ParticipationGP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61 <p>Try taking a youngster to a museum. It’s not easy. Where will you put the stroller? What about the crackers and the Cheerios? It’s even harder to manage a visit to an opera or a dance performance.</p><p>Such practical thoughts, and others like them, run through the minds of people (be they parents, friends, couples, or individuals) who are interested in participating in the arts—but haven’t yet committed. Their decision making isn’t over because they haven’t worked out when, where, and how they might participate. The barriers they face at this stage are largely practical ones, not perceptual ones, where they are unsure about what to expect. People ask questions like: Does this specific arts opportunity fit in my schedule? Can I afford the tickets? Is it worth my time and effort to participate (opportunity cost)? Where is the show, and can I get there easily? Where will I park my car? Whom will I go with? Do I have all the information I need to make a decision?</p><p>In other words, they ask, does it work for me?</p><p>Several arts organizations participating in <a href="/pages/default.aspx" target="_blank">Wallace Foundation</a> initiatives have taken measures to make attendance work for a larger number of people, then tracked the results. In San Francisco, when the <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/converting-family-into-fans.aspx" target="_blank">Contemporary Jewish Museum</a> targeted families as a desired audience, it first tried offering discounts. But they didn’t come; something else was needed. So, aside from offering a panoply of family activities, like art packs, the museum has marked off a space in its lobby to park strollers, installed changing tables in every restroom, and added low sinks that children can reach on their own. The museum also created family seating nooks in many exhibitions, including places where children may safely draw or read. As families enter the museum, they are told about areas where children may snack and where they may engage in touchable activities. “We try to be clear about what we can allow in a really friendly way,” said Fraidy Aber, Director of Education and Public Programs.</p><p>As a result, family visits since 2008 have jumped nearly tenfold, to some 13,000 families visiting a year—or 15 percent of total attendance versus 10 percent at the start.</p><p>Several years ago, the <a href="https://www.opera-stl.org/" target="_blank">Opera Theatre of St. Louis</a> began to hear very clearly that childcare was a practical barrier for many there, too. Now, at select matinees, OTSL offers a half-day “Kids Camp” for $20 per child. “Kids learn all about the performance you are seeing. They hear live music. They learn the story. They make their own little costume and set elements,” said Timothy O’Leary, who was the OTSL’s General Director until July 1 of this year. “And then, when you get your kid at the end of Opera Kids’ Club and you’ve been to the opera, you’ve got a little sheet about what they learned, and you ask them questions on the drive home. This is an incredibly great experience that people responded to really well.” It also exposes a very young generation to the arts, with potential reward in the future.</p><p>Other arts institutions have made different modifications to pull down practical barriers. The <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/can-the-citys-boom-mean-new-audiences-for-seattle-symphony.aspx" target="_blank">Seattle Symphony Orchestra</a>, for example, realized that its two- to three-hour concerts starting at 8 p.m. were inconvenient for some would-be patrons, so it started a new series of one-hour concerts, called “Untuxed,” that begin at 7 p.m. They’ve been very successful, attracting many new attendees.</p><p>Cost may be the biggest practical barrier for some groups—especially millennials, who, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/building-millennial-audiences-barriers-and-opportunities.aspx" target="_blank">surveys show</a>, typically overestimate ticket prices to arts events—though cost issues may also reflect deeper concerns about risking money on events they do not enjoy. Still, communicating actual ticket prices, and sometimes offering discounts, has helped pull in millennials.</p><p>Such practical matters can play a large part in the individual decision making of potential patrons; reducing these barriers can yield measurable results.</p><p><em>This three-post series outlines the Audience Journey, a conceptualization of people's decision-making process when choosing to attend an arts performance, exhibition or event. This post highlights ways to overcome some practical barriers to participating in the arts. Other posts suggest ways organizations might <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/countering-myths-and-misperceptions-of-the-arts.aspx">engage people who are less inclined</a> to attend or visit and how to create a <a href="http://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Encouraging-Frequent-Attendance-for-the-Arts.aspx">rewarding experience </a>that makes people want to return. All posts originally appeared on the National Arts Marketing Project's <a href="https://namp.americansforthearts.org/2018/10/16/taking-down-practical-hurdles">blog</a> and are reprinted here with permission. </em></p><p> </p> Taking Down the Practical Barriers of Arts Participationhttps://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Breaking-the-Practical-Barriers-of-Arts-Participation.aspx2018-11-02T04:00:00ZSecond in three-post series highlights audiences' practical concerns like cost or venue and how organizations can address them
Encouraging Frequent Attendance for the ArtsGP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61 <p>If you could attract neophyte audience members and get them to return by buying them a glass of wine, wouldn’t you do it? And if it was even easier to get them to the next step, becoming regulars—say, all it took was greeting them by name—wouldn’t you do that?</p><p>At the third gate in the decision-making journey potential audience members navigate, they are looking to have compelling, rewarding experiences, while arts organizations are hoping to not only meet those expectations but also exceed them. For it’s a truth readily acknowledged that getting new audience members through the door once is easier—but also more costly—than getting them to return. With attendees who have come at least once before, arts organizations are not starting their overtures on the first note.</p><p><a href="http://2017study.culturetrack.com/home" target="_blank">Recent research</a> shows that, aside from seeking emotional, mental, and social engagement with the arts, potential attendees—especially members of the millennial generation—are increasingly seeking a “total experience.” They want to have fun and connect with others just as much as they want to be enlightened or entertained by the art they are seeing.</p><p>That’s why the <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/denver-center-for-the-performing-arts-is-cracking-the-millennial-code.aspx" target="_blank">Denver Center Theatre Company</a> staged a large-scale immersive production called “Sweet & Lucky” at an offshoot called Off-Center. These interactive performances, designed to engage a generation that is used to immersive, participatory experiences, sold out to attendees with an average age of 41 (vs. 53 for traditional productions). In post-performance surveys, 94 percent of that group rated the play “very rewarding” or “extremely rewarding.” Another key component of the evenings was a purpose-built bar where audience members could socialize before and after the show—meeting another demand of a generation that likes to network.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.opera-stl.org/" target="_blank">Opera Theatre of St. Louis</a>, another participant in <a href="/pages/default.aspx" target="_blank">The Wallace Foundation’s</a> six-year, $61.5 million “Building Audiences for Sustainability” initiative, didn’t modify its opera offerings, but it too discovered that the opportunity to socialize was crucial to a better return on its outreach initiatives. In 2016, OTSL invited newcomers to attend a pre-performance wine reception, then measured its success. It discovered that 21 percent of the new-to-file audience members who attended the wine welcome returned in 2017 vs. only 17 percent of those who had not attended the wine reception. Joe Gfaller, Director of Marketing and Public Relations, said that OTSL will continue the wine receptions: “It’s a very low-cost, worthy investment.”</p><p>Further on the continuum of reducing audience churn, the <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/can-the-citys-boom-mean-new-audiences-for-seattle-symphony.aspx" target="_blank">Seattle Symphony</a> has been successful, with even less expense, at keeping new subscribers. The orchestra simply assigned staff members to greet them by name (learned as their tickets were scanned) when they arrived at Benaroya Hall and to say that the Symphony was happy that they’d come for the performance. “What we found,” said Charlie Wade, Senior Vice President for Marketing and Business Operations, “is that, in fact, the people that we greet renew at a significantly higher rate than people that we don’t greet.” In the 2016-17 season, that tally was 41 percent versus 29 percent.</p><p>During the 2017-18 season, the Symphony greeted more than 900 subscribers, nearly double the first year’s number, and the rate of renewal among them remained significantly higher, too. “It earned us on the order of $60,000 more” in subscription sales, Wade said.</p><p>These initiatives are elements of what has become known as the “surprise and delight” approach to enhancing the total customer experience: it involves giving attendees an unexpected reward that cultivates a bond with them and therefore fosters loyalty. These gestures often turn people into frequent attendees.</p><p>Taking this idea a step further, the Seattle Symphony has for the last two years provided customer experience training to all employees who interact with the public, from parking attendants to food and beverage servers to box office staff. They learn to greet all guests with a smile, eye contact, and a welcome (though they do not have access to names); to listen, care about, and anticipate rather than react to customer desires; and to end each interaction effectively, perhaps inviting audience members to return. As a result, Wade says that customer satisfaction, measured in surveys, has climbed in each of the last three years, undoubtedly helping with customer retention.</p><p>Younger audiences in particular say in surveys that it’s not quite enough for an arts experience to be engaging; they are looking to go to places where they feel an emotional tie, have positive interactions, and experience a sense of community. Efforts like these examples may well help turn first-timers into multi-timers.</p><p><em>This three-post series outlines the Audience Journey, a conceptualization of people's decision-making process when choosing to attend an arts performance, exhibition or event. This post focuses on how to create a rewarding experience that makes people want to return. Other posts suggest ways organizations might <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/countering-myths-and-misperceptions-of-the-arts.aspx">engage people who are less inclined</a> to participate in the arts and how to combat <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/breaking-the-practical-barriers-of-arts-participation.aspx">the practical barriers</a> of participation. All posts originally appeared on the National Arts Marketing Project's <a href="https://namp.americansforthearts.org/2018/10/16/the-arts-experience-and-reducing-audience-churn">blog</a> and are reprinted here with permission. </em></p><p> </p> Encouraging Frequent Attendance for the Artshttps://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Encouraging-Frequent-Attendance-for-the-Arts.aspx2018-11-09T05:00:00ZThird in three-post series examines how to create a rewarding arts experience that makes people want to return