Engaging Audiences in the Age of Social Distancing

 Arts organizations who participated in Wallace’s Building Audiences for Sustainability move further into digital presentation and experimentation.

Posted:
4/16/2020

​As social distancing measures are enacted across the globe to slow the spread of COVID-19, arts organizations are taking creative approaches to engage their audiences through nontraditional means. In recent weeks, museums, galleries and performing arts organizations have significantly expanded their online offerings through virtual tours of their collections, broadcasts of performances and interactive educational programs, making their work more accessible to a greater public. The Metropolitan Opera, for instance, announced that it would stream encore performances of its most famous productions, free to the general public. Similarly, the National Theatre in London is releasing new performances from their archives every Thursday, made available for free and “on demand” to audiences for a full week. While the crisis has brought tremendous uncertainty, it has also created opportunities to reach new audiences at a time when the sanctuary and connection offered by the arts is needed most.

“The traditional live arts experience has been predicated on physically bringing people together, and it relies so heavily on the chemistry between performer and audience, and the immediacy of that exchange,” noted Corinna Schulenburg, director of communications at Theater Communications Group “As we all adapt to new ways of working, we are seeing a real flourishing of experimentation that will likely have a long-lasting impact on how we present and create art.”

Many of the performing arts organizations in The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS) initiative have also implemented similar efforts to meet audiences where they are. From free broadcasts to classes and educational workshops, these offerings help audiences in their community—and around the world—continue to feel connected. A sample of digital events and activities are outlined below, with more content added regularly.

  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has started the Ailey All Access, an online streaming series allowing audiences to connect with performances, including full length works from the repertory, Ailey Extension dance classes, and original short films created by the Ailey dancers.

  • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has expanded their offerings on BSO Offstage, an online platform where audiences can find performance videos, BSO podcasts, and other content and resources.

  • La Jolla Playhouse’s online Staging Area is dedicated to virtual content, which features conversations with La Jolla artists and weekly posts from Playhouse artists and staff who share their favorite stories and memories.

  • Opera Philadelphia brings you opera on the couch through its first-ever Digital Festival​, with free streams of five past productions, including four world premier​es​.    

  • Pacific Northwest Ballet has posted at-home workouts for dancers and footage of rehearsals shot before their lockdown on their Twitter and Instagram, while also uploading articles to their blog.

  • Seattle Opera has created a special section on their website, Opera at Home, which features new playlists, talks, podcasts and other online content for their audiences.

  • Seattle Symphony’s musicians will share free broadcasts with the public, streamed via the Symphony’s YouTube channel and Facebook.

  • Steppenwolf Theatre Company is leading weekly free and public virtual workshops for early career professional, teens and educators. They also released their interview-style podcast Half Hour this month.
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  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has shifted their Progressive Party online—free and open to the public—allowing viewers to view performances, participate in an auction and experience a sneak-peak into Woolly’s 41st Season.