Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered live events across the country, audiences for the classical arts had been declining, forcing arts organizations to envision new strategies to both stem the decline while attracting new people to their art form.
Entering Cultural Communities: Diversity and Change in the Nonprofit Arts, while first published in 2008, offers a glimpse of organizations operating in the wake of 9/11, many of whom were experiencing some of the challenges and opportunities we see today. Diane Grams and Betty Farrell, the authors of the book, interviewed leaders, staff, volunteers and audience members from 85 nonprofit cultural organizations to explore how they were trying to increase participation and the extent to which they had been successful. The stories offer an insiders' account of how some organizations reinvented programs and created new activities, added new departments, shifted staff dynamics or sought partnerships with new groups in their community.
The organizations presented in the book include large, medium and small nonprofits located in urban, suburban and rural areas—from large institutions such as the Smithsonian, the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the San Francisco Symphony to many cultural organizations that are smaller, but often known nationally for their innovative work, such as AS220, The Loft Literary Center, Armory Center for the Arts, Appalshop and the Western Folklife Center.
In Chapter One, which you can download here free of charge, the authors introduce their concept of differentiating between "relational" and "transactional" practices. The former describes the organizations' efforts to build connections with local communities, while the latter describes their efforts to create new consumer markets for cultural products and make use of their database to guide the efficacy of new strategies.
In both the relational and the transactional practices, arts leaders ultimately report that, although positive results were difficult to measure conclusively, their long-term efforts were bringing better outcomes than short-term activities.