Based on case studies of 10 arts organizations that undertook audience-building projects as part of The Wallace Foundation’s Wallace Excellence Award initiative, this guide pinpoints nine successful practices projects had in common, including:

  • Identifying a target group that made sense for the organization;
  • Using market research to understand the audience’s views;
  • Making sure the organization’s leaders and staff members understood and embraced the strategy and their roles in it; and
  • Determining what barriers had to be removed for new members to become engaged.

Not every institution that was studied adopted each practice but, generally speaking, the more practices used, the greater the success achieved. “Taken together, these practices promoted audience engagement in two ways,” the report says. “First, they created a shared sense of purpose that kept an audience-engagement program front and center for leaders and staff, thus enabling the initiative to permeate a wide range of an organization’s activities. Second, the practices helped an arts institution make meaningful connections with its target audience.”

Filled with examples of successes and challenges from the work of museums, opera companies, a theater and other institutions, the report can serve as a guide to audience building for all arts groups.

This publication is part of a set of case studies and reports looking at the efforts of arts organizations who received Wallace Excellence Awards in order to reach new audiences and deepen relationships with existing ones.

 Points of Interest

  • The research found that the spur to an audience-building effort often came when an arts organization noticed a pattern of audience behavior that presented an opportunity or a challenge to its financial viability, artistic viability, or both.
    Study: Noticing audience behavior patterns can spur #arts organizations to undertake audience-building efforts.
  • Successful audience-building efforts occurred in arts organizations that identified the types of barriers that can keep members of a target group away—from a lack of time to the perception that they would feel out of place. The organizations then shaped their audience-building strategies accordingly.
    Study: To attract new audiences, #arts organizations first had to learn what was keeping people away.
  • Using audience research, arts organizations (that were part of a Wallace-Foundation commissioned study) gained a clearer understanding of their target group’s interests, lifestyles, attitudes toward the arts, cultural involvement and opinions of their institution.
    Study: Market research gave #arts orgs trying to build their audiences a clearer understanding of their target group.

 Supplementary Materials