In April 2008, nearly 200 arts leaders and other experts came together in San Francisco for a Wallace-sponsored conference, “Arts for All: Connecting to New Audiences.” The resulting discussions yielded rich insights into three ways arts groups can widen their audiences during a time in which there are more and more competing alternatives for people’s leisure hours: improving marketing, boosting the use of technology and undertaking audience research. Rather than being a threat to artistic integrity, conference speakers said, marketing should be viewed as a way to introduce arts organizations’ offerings to people who tend not to be frequent arts attendees. The Internet and other new media open additional possibilities for engaging current and potential audience members. And research can reveal insights into different segments of their audience, thereby offering a clear picture of the varying motivations that drive these cohorts to turn to, or away from, the arts. Armed with such knowledge, arts groups can equip themselves to develop more finely-tuned programming and marketing.
Throughout the conference, speakers emphasized the vital service arts organizations perform for themselves—and a field eager to learn new lessons about audience participation—when they test innovative approaches to broadening, deepening and diversifying audiences. As one speaker said: “We’re more at risk if we don’t reach out to new audiences in new ways.”