Cultivating new audiences and strengthening bonds with current attendees is a top priority for most arts organizations. Yet even though audience research can help achieve those goals, many arts organizations shy away from it, often citing lack of money, time or skills to carry out the endeavor. This guide, based on the experiences of arts organizations that took part in a Wallace Foundation audience-building initiative, seeks to help arts organizations get over these perceived hurdles. It describes three important uses of research: to learn about potential audiences; to develop more effective promotional materials; and to assess progress toward audience-building goals. It also details how to carry out the research effectively for each of those purposes—in both low-cost and more elaborate ways—and how to bring together an organizational team to manage the work.

The guide illustrates its points with examples showing the ways in which the Wallace-supported arts organizations conducted research—employing methods such as focus groups and visitor surveys—and then used the data to shape audience efforts, ranging from attracting younger crowds to drawing in more visitors from surrounding neighborhoods. The report concludes with a number of sample materials from the organizations’ work, including focus group discussion guides and survey questionnaires. A separate infographic summarizes the guide’s key points. A separate infographic summarizes the guide’s key points.

This report is part of a set of case studies and reports looking at the efforts of arts organizations that received Wallace Excellence Awards to reach new audiences and deepen relationships with current ones.

Points of Interest

  • Focus groups can guide decision-making at three critical junctures in audience-building initiatives: the development phase, to understand how audiences perceive an art form and an institution; pre-launch, to gauge reactions to new program ideas; and post-launch, to get feedback that can identify areas in need of improvement.
    3 critical times when focus groups can boost #arts audience-building efforts: development, pre-launch & post-launch.
  • You’ll need parental permission to recruit minors for a focus group. For its research with teens, the Pacific Northwest Ballet first got an OK from an adult in each household.
    #Arts audience-research tip: Focus group with #teens? First get permission from #parents.
  • If you have visitors coming and going at a new event, don’t wait until it’s over to survey them. Conduct the survey throughout the occasion to capture a wide range of people and opinions.
    #Arts audience-research tip: Visitors coming/going at a new event? Survey them throughout to get wide opinion range.