While it’s more challenging during hard economic times for arts organizations to continue devoting time and effort to building new audiences, this work—and the lessons from it—are also more vital than ever to the long-term health of the entire arts sector. That was the message at a 2009 conference in Philadelphia of more than 50 arts organizations receiving Wallace Excellence Awards for making arts a bigger part of people’s lives. In fact, according to conference speakers, the challenges arts organizations face stem not only from the nation’s economic woes in the wake of the Great Recession but also from longer-term seismic shifts, such as new technology allowing people to interact more spontaneously and a growing number of leisure-time options.

Speakers included Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and John Zogby, a public-opinion pollster. A major topic of discussion was the use of various audience-building mechanisms. Participants learned how market research can help organizations better understand—and tap into—changing demographics and audience preferences as well as how new technologies can be harnessed to engage new audiences. Conference speakers also pointed to a strong correlation between the extent to which people engage in various forms of artistic experiences in their lives and their propensity to attend professional arts and cultural events.

 Points of Interest

  • Younger people generally appear to be very committed to community institutions, in¬cluding those delivering arts and cultural experiences: 71 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds consider the presence of local arts and cultural groups important to their quality of life, according to pollster John Zogby.
    71% of 18- to 29-year-olds consider the presence of local #arts & cultural groups important to their quality of life.
  • There is a five-dollar return for every dollar invested in arts and cultural activities in the city, according to Philadelphia’s @Mayor Michel_Nutter.
    Mayor @Michael_Nutter: Every $1 invested in #arts & cultural activities in #Philadelphia sees $5 return.
  • Owing to technological advances, just about anyone with something to say or an ambition to perform can find a virtual and unmediated outlet through YouTube, blogs or other platform. The result: Some traditional venues, including many arts institutions, are on shakier ground.
    New technology gives anyone with a desire to perform a virtual #arts outlet, threatening traditional platforms.