In this landmark study, a RAND Corporation research team describes a framework arts organizations can use to think systematically about building audiences for the arts. It presents what the authors call a “behavioral model” that, in short, categorizes adults into one of three groups—regular audience members, those who are inactive but inclined to take part, and the disinclined.

The report asserts that arts organizations wishing to expand their audiences need a different course of action for each group—i.e., a strategy to lower the particular barriers preventing the group in question from participating in the arts (or, in the case of the regulars, participating even more). To reach the inclined, for example, arts organizations should reduce “practical barriers,” such as inconvenient scheduling or location, while for the disinclined, arts groups should dismantle “perceptual barriers,” such as the sense that the art form being offered is unappealing or unapproachable. By applying this framework to their audience-building work, arts organizations can avoid hit-or-miss efforts that waste scarce resources, the authors say.

The report also suggests that institutions employ what the researchers call an “integrative approach” to audience building, i.e., organizations must ensure that their efforts are in sync with their purpose and mission, resources and the community in which they operate.

The report is based on a review of research, interviews with a number of arts organizations that received audience-building grants from Wallace and a survey of more than 100 administrators of arts organizations working to attract and engage audiences.

Points of Interest

  • Effective audience engagement strategies are targeted ones. The key to developing such strategies for the arts is knowing what tactics to use with which target populations and when.
    The key to effective audience-building for #arts: knowing what tactics to use w/ which target population and when.
  • Successful efforts to build audiences for the arts require the commitment of an organization’s key staff and operating units, its board and its key funders.
    Successful #arts audience-building requires all hands on deck: staffers, board members, funders.
  • Arts organizations are unlikely to get everything right the first time they try to build their audiences. That’s why they should evaluate progress and modify plans accordingly.
    In audience-building efforts, #arts organizations should track their progress & be ready to modify plans accordingly.

Supplementary Materials