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What Can We Learn from High-Performing Arts Organizations of Color?9756GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​For a few weeks in the Twin Cities last fall, the St. Paul-based Theatre Mu presented an interactive exhibit highlighting the work of Asian artists and performers. While audiences could view the exhibit online, it was created so that they could also walk through display stalls, with social distancing, at the Jungle Theatre. In an innovative twist, people could also view portions of the exhibit from the theatre’s street-facing windows. </p><p>The collaboration between the two theaters, according to Anh-Thu Pham, Theatre Mu’s managing director, allowed the company to keep many of its set designers, captioners, builders and others on the payroll during the pandemic, while offering some respite to a community in lockdown. </p><p>“We were founded with a dual purpose, as a community organization as well as a theatre, and those two threads are woven so deeply into our DNA,” Pham said in a recent panel discussion. “They are part and parcel of everything we do.” </p><p>Those threads, it turns out, are not exclusive to the make-up of Theatre Mu. According to a recent report, many organizations that have grown out of and serve the needs of BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) have managed to build and sustain a loyal base while audiences at more classical, or Eurocentric, organizations have generally been in&#160; decline for decades. Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts and co-author of a recently published report, <a href="/knowledge-center/Documents/The-Alchemy-of-High-Performing-Arts-Organizations-Part-2.pdf"><em>The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations, Part II&#58; A Spotlight on Organizations of Color</em></a>, said that it is in fact their origins in serving communities long ignored by the mainstream that can provide BIPOC organizations with a tangible degree of audience and community loyalty. </p><p>Yet Voss also emphasized that, despite those enviable strengths, BIPOC organizations have rarely been rewarded by funders that have for years sought to encourage precisely the qualities these organizations exhibit—serving diverse audiences, employing many artists of color and a diverse staff, creating more inclusive organizations and reaching into underrepresented and economically disadvantaged communities. “These local organizations are often in competition with the white organizations for funding and they usually lose out to them,” Voss says. “Organizations that are rooted in communities of color receive far less support, recognition and attention both from funders and from society at large.”</p><p>Voss presented these and other key findings from the new report, which is based on the experiences of 21 high-performing BIPOC organizations, with a median budget of $1.4 million (Theatre Mu was one of the organizations). The interviews were conducted in August and September of 2020 and included representatives from dance, music, theater, multidisciplinary performing arts and community-based arts organizations. An earlier report from SMU DataArt’s research, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/the-alchemy-of-high-performing-arts-organizations.aspx"><em>The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations</em></a><em>,</em> focused on the successful practices of a wider range of organizations. </p><p>Voss and Pham were joined in the panel discussion by representatives from two of the other high-performing organizations in the BIPOC report&#58; Juan Díes, the co-founder and executive director of Sones de Mexico Ensemble, a folk music group based in Chicago, and Blake-Anthony Johnson, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Sinfonietta. The conversation was <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-5.aspx">the fifth in Wallace’s “Reimagining the Future of the Arts” series</a>, which provides a forum to explore pressing questions in the field. </p><p>In addition to addressing the question of BIPOC organizations’ community orientation, the panelists discussed the quick improvisation and innovation that helped them navigate the pandemic, particularly the full-on embracing of digital content. They relied on the skills they’d honed working for years with tight budgets while retaining a focus on the communities they serve, and they expressed a vital need for increased funding to expand what organizations can accomplish. &#160;</p><p><strong>Survival on a shoestring</strong><strong> </strong><br> Díes of Sones de Mexico told the panel that while his group’s performances have always attracted a broad audience, unbound by geography or culture, audiences have grown even larger with digital performances during the pandemic. But because he is the sole staff member, Díes said, “capacity is a big issue.” He runs the company’s website and educational programs and also arranges new music performances.</p><p>Although Díes is used to wearing all of these administrative hats, he said he has received no additional funding to do so and sometimes finds it a challenge. </p><p>Pham added that Theater Mu shifted to producing digital performances just days after the shutdown. Since then the company has produced more than 40 events, but she said it could not keep up at that pace. “We needed to take a breath,” she said. </p><p>Chicago Sinfonietta, too, has succeeded in extending its reach internationally, finding new audiences for virtual performances in more than 40 countries and enrolling interns digitally from Lebanon and Dubai, according to Johnson. But, he said, the strains on the organization are a constant concern. This has led the Sinfonietta to drop some priorities, while remaining true to the its mission of training BIPOC musicians and organizational leaders to increase the diversity of orchestras. </p><p>He compared the exercise of contending with these limits to juggling balls, some made of glass and some of plastic. Because glass balls would shatter if you let them fall, you keep them up in the air, while you can drop the plastic balls since they will bounce and can be picked up at a later date. “You can do everything, but not all at once,” he said. “You determine what is fundamental and what can wait. You look at what are essentials and what can go for now.” </p><p>All of the panelists stressed how challenging it has been to squeeze more from their organizations, which are already stretched thin, and urged funding organizations themselves to pivot towards supporting increased organizational capacity rather than just performances and programs, the traditional focus. “The top challenge we heard in this research was organizational capacity,” said Voss. “It’s a serious issue that brings concerns of staff burnout, low compensation levels, recruitment and retention issues that can inhibit the organizations’ ability to capitalize on the short-term successes and get to a sense of balance.”</p><p>She added, “Exclusion from equitable access to capital means many organizations of color that want to grow are denied agency.”<br> </p><p><strong>Toward equity in arts funding</strong><br> According to <a href="http&#58;//notjustmoney.us/docs/NotJustMoney_Full_Report_July2017.pdf">an article</a> Voss cites in the BIPOC study&#58; “People of color represent 37 percent of the population, but just 4 percent of all foundation arts funding is allocated to groups whose primary mission is to serve communities of color. It is estimated that approximately one in two Americans is low-income or living in poverty but less than 3 percent of arts foundation funding is directed to cultural groups whose primary purpose is to serve these communities.”</p><p>Voss said the inequities in funding for BIPOC arts organizations were particularly unfortunate because these organizations have succeeded in achieving some of the critical goals various funders have supported in recent years. For instance, many white organizations have struggled to fulfill goals such as increasing diversity in the art they produce and their audience base, while widening access to underserved communities.</p><p>“I heard repeatedly how profoundly relevant these organizations are and that brings me back to how they were founded in the first place,” Voss said. “Usually, there had been no opportunities for artists of color in these communities and these organizations provide that programming. They filled a void, and that sets up a particularly dynamic relationship between the organization and the community. They are funded not just by a few people with deep pockets as much as the whole community having a sense of ownership.”</p><p>Johnson said he has learned that when seeking funding, he must devote a great deal of time to educating funders about how the Sinfonietta trains artists of color, helping them launch careers in music, and helps develop administrative leaders of color, as well as how their support of BIPOC organizations can help organizations achieve such important goals. A key, he said, is making funders aware of the strength of the Chicago Sinfonietta in bringing greater diversity and inclusivity to the orchestral world. “It’s a matter of educating people,” he said. “It’s letting them know that there are options for supporting orchestras, people like us. So it’s a matter of access to those funding organizations and then having the time to do that educating.” <br> </p><p><strong>Building increased capacity</strong><br> One of the consistent challenges, Johnson said, is making the case for funds to expand staff and organizational capacity, not just programs. “Yes, a few funders have been mindful of that need, but it’s such a rare thing,” he said. After giving it some additional thought, he said there had been but a single instance when his organization was offered such funding. </p><p>“These are communities that do not have a lot of high net worth individuals,” Voss said. “They don’t have wealth to pay high ticket prices, rising ticket prices, and they cannot provide high levels of funding. But in the more Eurocentric, white organizations, individual contributions are plentiful and fund growth.”</p><p>She added, “These organizations are in a vicious cycle&#58; we’ll give you less money because you’re smaller but without that money they can’t grow bigger. This is affecting underrepresented communities.”</p><p>Díes agreed, recommending that funders consider providing more multiyear grants to build stability into organizations and offer greater opportunities for them to achieve long-term expansion. He also suggested that the requirements built into some grants that recipients attend financial management courses be dropped. “There’s distrust built in there, like we don’t know how to manage money,” he said, insisting that that was incorrect after 23 years of experience, in his case. “The foundations should trust us.” </p><p>Pham noted a particular problem&#58; While many funding organizations are willing to support youth education programs, they have been reluctant to fund programs for adults. These sorts of adult-education programs can be especially helpful in training BIPOC artists who are eager to develop careers as actors or stage designers. “That’s a disparity that I run into,” she said.</p><p>Voss said the funding challenges are serious but she was still optimistic about the path forward, especially as lockdowns lift, arts venues reopen and arts organizations are able to build on the lessons they have learned from going digital during the pandemic.</p><p>“There has been a lapse in how the model is supposed to work,” Voss said. “But the field at large has so much to learn from the strong BIPOC organization leaders. What we don’t want to see any more is one kind of organization pitted against another.”<br></p><p><em>Top photo&#58;&#160;Sones de Mexico Ensemble&#160;by Henry Fajardo​</em><br></p>James Sterngold 1122021-06-02T04:00:00ZAs the arts sector looks toward re-opening, a new report offers lessons from successful organizations run by and serving BIPOC communities6/2/2021 6:07:16 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / What Can We Learn from High-Performing Arts Organizations of Color As the arts sector looks toward re-opening, a new report 2265https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
How Can Arts Organizations Better Serve the Communities They Work In?26252GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​​​​​​​​When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live performances last spring, Anna Glass, executive director of the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH), said the company was thrown off balance but still needed to respond to its changed circumstances. So, despite having little technical knowledge, equipment or experience with virtual presentations, staffers quickly started to prepare and post online digital dance performances. Improvised though it was, this attempt to reach people produced an unexpected result&#58; the discovery of a previously unknown global audience, stretching from California to the Bahamas and Brazil.<br></p><p>“What we were most shocked by was to see how beloved this institution is worldwide. That was a surprise because DTH has been through a lot of turmoil,” Glass said, referring to a period from 2004 to 2012 when financial difficulties shuttered the venerable dance company. “But we were surprised to find that having been out of sight for a while did not mean we were out of mind. There was a hunger to see what we are and what we do.”</p><p>Glass said the experience of creating those digital performances has now inspired a stronger desire to find and engage with audiences and to strengthen relationships within and outside of the company. “We had success,” she said of the quick pivot and changed operations during the pandemic. “Not from a financial standpoint, but in giving us a new platform to tell our stories. That lesson has been worth its weight in gold.”</p><p>Dance Theater of Harlem’s experience is not an anomaly. Many arts and cultural organizations over the past year have experimented with new ways to engage their audiences and, frankly, survive.<br></p><p>Under the stresses of the pandemic, economic insecurity and a national reckoning with racial justice, audiences, too, have been seeking out ways (especially in online offerings) to find community through the arts. This desire for connection was borne out in a broad survey conducted last year during the early months of the pandemic and described in a report, <a href="https&#58;//sloverlinett.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Centering-the-Picture-full-report-CCTC-Wave-1-findings.pdf"><em>Centering the Picture&#58; The role of race &amp; ethnicity in cultural engagement in the U.S.</em></a><em>,</em> by Slover Linett Audience Research and LaPlaca Cohen, an arts marketing company. The researchers surveyed 124,000 people from different racial and ethnic groups from April 29 to May 19, 2020, to find out how they interacted with arts and culture organizations and what changes they might like to see. The responses generally struck three overriding themes&#58;<br></p><ol><li>Organizations could become more community- and people-centered; </li><li>They could offer more casual and enjoyable experiences; and </li><li>They could provide more engaging and relevant content that is reflective of the communities they serve. </li></ol><p>Further, BIPOC (or Black, indigenous and people of color) respondents were even more likely than white respondents to express an interest in changes in the arts and cultural organizations they frequented, reflecting trends that had already been under way in many communities. </p><p><img src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/How-Can-Arts-Organizations-Better-Serve-the-Communities-They-Work-In/desire-for-change-in-cultural-sector.jpg" alt="desire-for-change-in-cultural-sector.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br><strong><br>​At the Nexus of Art and Community</strong><br></p><p>These themes and the survey itself provided an anchor for the <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-4.aspx">fourth edition of Wallace’s Arts Conversation Series</a>, which began with the question&#58; How can organizations respond to what their communities need most, especially in light of the continuing pandemic? Glass was one of the panelists. </p><p>Nancy Yao Massbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America, in New York City, and also one of the panelists, said the theme of being community centered resonated with her organization as well, adding that the museum staff felt a keen need to remain connected with a community suffering under the lockdown. “It’s not just a desire for changes to make the museum more accessible,” she said. “It is an urgency.” &#160; </p><p>Noting &#160;that the museum’s online offerings on the Chinese community’s experience in the United States and artifacts relating these Chinese-American stories, all free, had experienced a 10- to 20-fold increase in viewers since the pandemic, Massbach said she and others at the museum did not want this new engagement to be temporary but to continue once venues reopened. Massbach’s words were echoed by Glass and Josephine Ramirez, executive vice president of The Music Center in Los Angeles, the third panelist. All suggested that their organizations had successfully pivoted from survival mode toward a rebirth of sorts, devising creative ways to connect with their audiences—and with their peers. </p><p>Ramirez said that The Music Center’s efforts to find innovative ways to offer virtual performances, such as turning traditional live summer dance events into online dance-teaching sessions, gave the organization a way to provide useful content to audiences while keeping the dancers employed, an important institutional objective. It has also led to a greater degree of internal communication and collaboration among staff members at The Music Center, which houses four resident companies and produces a variety of performances and educational experiences. In a follow-up conversation, Ramirez said it was essential for staff members to become “unstuck” and break free of their tried and true ways of preparing performances to better respond to, engage with and build audiences during the shutdown. This often involved tweaking some job responsibilities. </p><p>“Everyone had to learn something new and different,” she said. “Under those circumstances, we had to communicate more than ever with staff, to make explicit all the things they needed to do that before were always implicit. We’d never had to do that before. Now we had to communicate more and better on what was expected and new methods. Old expectations were exploded. We had to help people get comfortable with constant change and that meant a lot more and better communication.”</p><p>Massbach said that the Museum of Chinese in America had benefited too from new levels of staff inclusiveness and brainstorming, which has produced innovations such as using the museum’s street-facing windows for exhibits, something not done previously. The organization has also revamped its website to more effectively promote the museum’s recent initiatives, including its response to anti-Asian attacks, the launch of a series how to be an ally and presentations on unsung aspects of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. </p><p><strong>It Takes a Village</strong></p><p>Another key to building audiences and strengthening arts organizations overall has been to seek out greater collaboration within the arts and cultural sector. That has included ideas such as sharing useful information and replacing competition for grant dollars with cooperation, i.e., having nonprofits, particularly those operating within the same racial or cultural communities, jointly apply for—and then share—funding.&#160; &#160;</p><p>To accomplish that, Massbach suggested that funders consider providing grants to what she called a BIPOC “fund of funds,” adapted from a model used in the financial sector—creating an umbrella organization that could collect grants and funds and then allocate the money more equitably among multiple organizations in a particular community. </p><p>“If you have, hypothetically, a thousand small cultural organizations applying for money, and foundations are trying to discern between a thousand, it’s really, really hard,” she said. She went on to elaborate during the panel discussion that if a group of organizations could create that “fund of funds,” or “foundation of foundations,” to guide money toward many different organizations, the money could be distributed more equitably and sustainably. “I don’t want to be the ‘check the box’ Chinese-American organization that gets the funding when other people don’t because it was easier for people to do that work,” she said. </p><p>In another example of field collaboration, Glass said that she has benefited from a spontaneously created forum for New York-based arts and cultural organizations to meet, share ideas and collaborate on advocacy. Launched in March 2020, the virtual meetings were dubbed Culture@3 for their start time. “For the first few meetings we talked about things like how to get hand sanitizer,” Glass said. “Then we started discussing whatever problems came up, things like insurance problems and city funding. It turned into a place of advocacy and support, sharing information. For this field to survive we need to keep these lines of communication open.” </p><p>Lucy Sexton, the executive director of New Yorkers for Culture &amp; Arts, an advocacy group, and one of three people who help run Culture@3, said the effort was having a big impact on the hundreds of organizations that have become regular participants. While meetings were initially held seven days a week, given the enormous need early in the shutdown, they are now on a four-day-a-week schedule. In addition to running the general meetings, the organizers have spun off working groups on such topics as fundraising and human resources. Recently, Sexton said, the group brought in an expert to explain changes in the tax rules for unemployment benefits, and one of their working groups raised $150,000 to provide emergency grants, as much as $500, to artists in need. </p><p>“This has helped us build stronger advocacy for the cultural field,” Sexton said. “We never talked like this before. There was no collaboration, no communication like this.” </p><p>Glass added that her hope was that this collaboration might prevent the sort of panic she recalls experiencing when the shutdown first hit. The sense of helplessness and being caught completely off guard without a viable game plan is something she says she wants to avoid in the future.</p><p>“That’s what’s making me look hard at our business model,” Glass said. “I don’t want us to hit the next catastrophe, and there will be a next one at some point, and I’m curled up in a ball unprepared. Before that catastrophe we need to create a system for when the Bat-Signal goes up, everyone knows what their role is and how to respond.”</p><p>Ramirez agreed and said that, while arts organizations always need to remain focused on financial sustainability, one of the lessons of the pandemic is that opportunities to bring in larger, more diverse audiences should be pursued even if there is no immediate financial return. “For us, it’s about expanding our family, for people to understand who we are and to experience our work,” she said. “It’s really about the expansion of our family more than anything else.” </p>​<br>James Sterngold 1122021-04-27T04:00:00ZPandemic sheds light on what audiences, particularly those in BIPOC communities, want from arts and cultural organizations—and how organizations are responding4/27/2021 4:25:56 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / How Can Arts Organizations Better Serve the Communities They Work In Pandemic sheds light on what audiences, particularly 1170https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
Reframing “Success” and “Failure” in The Arts9606GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​Pondering how nonprofit arts organizations can survive the pandemic lockdowns, Elizabeth Merritt, vice president for strategic foresight at the American Alliance of Museums and founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, turns to evolutionary biology for a model. </p><p>Organisms, she says, have developed two basic survival strategies depending on their environment. </p><p>Those that are known as K-selection live in generally stable environments, which reward steadiness, sturdy structures, slow change and long-range planning. Then there are R-selection organisms, which live in rapidly changing, volatile, hostile environments, that require a skill set centered on nimbleness, risk-taking and an ability to pivot quickly. The simple truth, Merritt says, is that arts organizations have generally moved from the K environment to an R environment due to the pandemic, and most are having to master unfamiliar, flexible strategies to survive in this new Darwinian period. </p><p>“In recent years, arts nonprofits have been pressed to be more like businesses&#58; plan, focus on audiences, earn revenues, measure performance results,” says Merritt. “The irony is that just as that was taking hold, particularly in museums, the whole environment changes. It’s more volatile.”</p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Why Scenario Planning? Why Now? </h2><p>Merritt was one of the panelists in the third conversation of Wallace’s series, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation.aspx">“Reimaging the Future of the Arts.”</a> This installment, moderated by Marc Scorca,&#160;​CEO and president of OPERA America,&#160;focused on <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-3.aspx">how arts organizations can adapt to uncertainty</a> by utilizing a planning model to develop a range of scenarios on what the future might hold and then preparing multiple strategies to thrive, no matter the environment. Employing a “scenario planning” process is one way of minimizing any surprises or paralysis in the face of unexpected circumstances while ensuring that institutions are creative and flexible enough to try new approaches. </p><p>In kicking off the panel discussion, Daniel Payne, managing principal at AEA Consulting, which provides strategy and planning for creative organizations, introduced a&#160;scenario planning <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/navigating-uncertain-times-a-scenario-planning-toolkit-for-arts-culture-sector.aspx">toolkit</a>&#160;that&#160;the organization had recently created. </p><p>While scenario planning, a strategy borrowed from corporate management, can sound liberating, Payne sounded a warning, echoed by other panelists&#58; A scenario planning exercise can create tensions in arts organizations because some parts of arts organizations may be more comfortable experimenting than others. In practice, he said, there can be a disconnect between the artistic side of an organization and “the board mindset, which is frequently focused on preservation, conservation and protection.” This may fall in line with a K-selection (stability) versus an R-selection (risk taking) environment, but panelists agreed that in today’s environment it was essential to bridge the divide.&#160;</p><p>“By necessity, we’re doing things that are experimental, fleeting, transient, not permanent,” Kristina Newman-Scott, the president of BRIC, an arts and media nonprofit in Brooklyn, says in a conversation after the panel. “But that means failure must be a part of it. You have to do things even when you don’t know what it will look like on the other side. You have to realize that can go against the hierarchy we’ve developed, a hierarchy that relies on the money side, and money reinforces the rigidity. I live in that place, where I consistently bump up against that rigidity.”</p><p>Stephanie Ybarra, the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage, the state theater of Maryland, which produces both professional productions and educational programs, describes a similar tension. “Our idea now is to look to small experiments, to test them and then, if they’re working, scale them up,” Ybarra said in a conversation. “But a key point is that our measure cannot be ticket sales for Baltimore Center Stage. It’s our position in the community, our support for the community. We have to reframe the ideas of success and failure.”</p><p>Such reframing can often challenge any entrenched mindsets. “One of the biggest barriers to being nimble is the feeling that you have to be perfect,” says Merritt. “Lots of times perfect is the enemy of the good, but you don’t have to be perfect. Give us a break! You also have to realize that, sometimes, the risk of not changing is greater than the risk of changing.” </p><p>Any failure in experimenting, she adds, should be seen not as a dead end but a learning opportunity.</p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Community Arts + Education </h2><p>At BRIC, as the pandemic shut down theaters and other live venues, Newman-Scott says they were forced to come up with new ways to fulfill the organization’s mission of providing creative opportunities to their Brooklyn community and keep their staff engaged. So, they reached out to the NYC Department of Education and simply asked how BRIC could be of service. &#160;</p><p>Together, they acknowledged the large digital divide affecting lower income families, providing special challenges for remote learning. They developed a plan for teachers to provide raw video from their online classes and lessons, which BRIC’s experienced media producers would then edit into videos played on BRIC’s cable channels. BRIC has six cable channels that reach 500,000 homes in Brooklyn. Even students without good computers or Wi-Fi usually have access to televisions.</p><p>“We know we can’t solve that digital divide, but we thought, we can help move the needle,” says Newman-Scott. “Once we were doing it, we were like, why weren’t we doing this before?”</p><p>And BRIC has gone a step further. “The teachers told us they wanted to learn how to produce those videos themselves, and we said, ‘We will train you,’” she says.</p><p>BRIC also tried to reshape its artists’ incubator program. Normally they would provide studio space to local artists, which allowed them the time to create new works and test them in front of one another. With the studio closed to face-to-face activities, BRIC tried to put the program online. “But we found that some of this just didn’t translate to a virtual environment,” Newman-Scott says. “By its nature, this art isn’t polished. It’s unfinished, experimental. It’s in process, not complete. So, it’s supposed to be educational about the process, but it doesn’t come across as well in the virtual setting.”</p><p>Lesson learned.</p><p>“This is a model that we can develop and that we can share with others,” she says of their own more experimental process. “It keeps challenging us. It challenges our own assumptions about our values and mission.&quot;​<br></p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">A Theatre as Social Hub</h2><p>When the pandemic hit, Ybarra was pleased that the board of the Baltimore Center Stage quickly formed a small group that operated as a brain trust to help the creative staff develop new ideas and to support thoughtful experimentation. One of the early problems they faced was the need to shutter a program that offered matinees for students and the question of what they might do now to reach them.</p><p>The theater had been presenting a one man play, <em>Where We Stand,</em> a Faustian tale in which a man, sickened by years of backbreaking labor, meets a stranger one day on the outskirts of town and is offered a bargain—in exchange for giving the stranger the town’s soul and name, the man would receive health and prosperity. He accepts and then he and the town confront the impact of that choice. The play had just finished a run in New York City and was about to open in Baltimore when the pandemic hit.</p><p>The theater quickly developed a new plan. First, videographers filmed the play to be presented virtually, something that, Ybarra says, they had not done previously. Then they created an educational curriculum for classroom use tied to the Common Core; it was adaptable for 7th to 12th graders, though most viewers were high school students. That was new for Baltimore Center Stage. The investment amounted to just a few thousand dollars and a couple of weeks of work for the staff. </p><p>It proved popular, with about 1,500 students watching online and following the curriculum, with an audience that has now spread far beyond Baltimore, Ybarra says. That has encouraged the theater to build on the success, with board support, to invest more money and build a library of free student-oriented performances, with accompanying study aids. </p><p>“We might monetize it later, but not now,” Ybarra says. “The aim from the start was to learn from the experience.”</p><p>Another experiment involved offering virtual readings of parts of plays—for instance, from <em>The Glass Menagerie</em>—and using them in deeper conversations with an online audience about the crafts of writing, staging and acting. The theater was disappointed that only about 150 people tuned in but is thinking about how it might expand interest and is continuing the series, with a focus on getting “under the hood of a specific aspect of theatermaking,” Ybarra says. </p><p>“This has us thinking about shifting the balance between earned revenue and contributions,” she continues. “Now seems like the time to reposition Baltimore Center Stage as a cultural hub, a civic hub. We want to bring in lots of new stakeholders.”</p><p>Merritt sees continuing this sort of thoughtful experimentation as an aspect of developing strategies for a variety of scenarios. Both the successes and failures should be regarded as positive contributions to the process of adaptation and survival in the more difficult environment. “Being loose and flexible and experimental, it might make audiences happier, and we need to get even better at exploring that,” she says.</p><p>But when the pandemic eventually recedes and theaters reopen to audiences, will organizations simply revert to previous strategies?&#160;</p><p>While she can’t speak for others, Ybarra is firm about Baltimore Center Stage&#58; “Absolutely not!” she says. “We’re just not going back.”<br></p>James Sterngold 1122021-02-16T05:00:00ZWhat arts groups might learn from imagining many possible futures, experimenting and scaling what works2/23/2021 2:48:41 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / Reframing “Success” and “Failure” in The Arts What arts groups might learn from imagining many possible futures 714https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
The Pandemic is Transforming The Arts—and It’s Not All Bad News23328GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​Last summer, with theaters across the country shuttered by the coronavirus, Kate Maguire set out to break through the pandemic fatigue. To succeed, the artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theater Group in Pittsfield, Mass., knew she would need to do something that had not been attempted since union performances closed down last March&#58; bring a group of actors together in front of a live audience. </p><p>Maguire convinced Actors’ Equity to allow <a href="https&#58;//www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/theater/godspell-berkshires-coronavirus.html">an outdoor production of <em>Godspell</em></a> and devised an acceptable safety plan. She worked with local and state authorities to ensure everyone would feel safe and be protected—the stage would be under a tent, everyone in masks, and the audience size would be capped at 50. Still, Maguire hoped the play with its theme of community and spiritual unity would resonate with an emotionally battered audience—and she saw that wish fulfilled. </p><p>“People were weeping because they were in the presence of music, of language and of this story,” she recalled. “All of a sudden we were in the midst of really understanding what the arts mean to peoples’ lives.” </p><p>Maguire recounted this story for the more than 600 participants gathered online for <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-session-one-what-audiences-want.aspx">the first of Wallace’s five-part “Reimagining the Future of the Arts”</a> conversation series. She went on to explain that she’s thinking about reducing the number of plays the company typically produces in a season and examining artistic choices in order to offer audiences the kind of emotional connections they experienced this summer. Even after the pandemic fades, she says, she expects to continue with these changes. </p><p>“I think what happened this summer was really monumental artistically, and that freshness changes your focus,” she said. “I’m not so sure I’m going to build the circus as I have in the past. I would like to be able to concentrate on intensity, not variety.” </p><p>She is not alone. The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with an energized racial justice movement, has sparked an urgency among many nonprofit arts leaders to rethink their how their organizations approach everything from audience interaction to inclusivity and equity. </p><p>“We will never go back,” <strong>Lisa Richards Toney</strong>, president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, said on the same panel discussion. She and Maguire kicked off the series, along with <strong>Arthur Cohen, the founder and CEO </strong>of the LaPlaca Cohen, a strategy and arts marketing firm, <strong>Franklin Sirmans</strong>, president and CEO of the Pérez Art Museum in Miami; the panel was moderated by Wallace's communications director Lucas Held. While each of the panelists&#160;acknowledged the stresses pulling at an old system, they embraced this moment as an opportunity to come up with forward-looking ideas and determine how to carry them out. &#160; </p><p><strong>Audiences Are Changing</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>Cohen kicked off the panel with a presentation based on the <a href="https&#58;//culturetrack.com/research/covidstudy/">survey</a> his firm conducted with Slover Linett Research last spring. More than 124,000 people responded, most through 653 arts organizations. Not surprisingly, the attitude expressed by most respondents was, in a word, glum. They said they felt isolated, anxious, bored and disconnected. Asked what they most wanted from arts events in this dark time, most said they wanted to laugh and relax, seek an escape, find hope, feel connected and discover educational opportunities for children.</p><p>“COVID-19, in every fundamental way, has disrupted our sense of what normal looks like,” Diane Jean-Mary, partner and chief strategy officer at LaPlaca Cohen, said in <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/what-we-need-from-arts-and-culture-right-now.aspx">an earlier conversation</a> on The Wallace Blog. “In a time of such great uncertainty, many are turning to creativity, perhaps as a way to regain a sense of agency, expression and enjoyment.” </p><p>The survey also provided powerful evidence that new patterns—meaning new opportunities—are emerging. Most striking, perhaps, is the diversity of new audiences. Digital events, many free of charge, are attracting people from lower income groups. Audiences are skewing younger and have different levels of education. Many of those enjoying digital arts offerings had not visited an arts institution in the previous year, meaning they were considered new audience members, now hungry for artistic stimulation. </p><p>There were other examples of this diversity. For example, those taking in digital orchestra performances who had not attended a live concert in the previous year were 15 times more likely to be Black, and three times more likely to be from Gen Z, ages 18 to 23 years old, than those who had attended a performance. Of the people viewing digital content from art museums, those who had not visited a museum in the previous year were almost twice as likely to have a high school education or less than those who had visited. [For more survey results, see <a href="/knowledge-center/Documents/Culture-and-Community-in-a-Time-of-Crisis-Slides.pdf">Cohen’s presentation from the event</a>.] </p><p>“This represents a really interesting opportunity to perhaps view the digital audience as a growth audience for us,” said Cohen. </p><p><strong>Digital Is Here to Stay</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>When the shutdown hit in March, Sirmans of the Perez Art Museum says he quickly pivoted to greater use of digital alternatives. “We went into it with abandon in the first few months of the pandemic without knowing exactly what we were doing, but we’re learning now,” he explained in a conversation following the webinar. Although it’s too soon to assess the full impact of these offerings on audiences, Sirmans said he expects that many of the changes will be permanent. </p><p>A new section of the organization’s website showcases its strong Caribbean art collection while a redesigned smartphone app creates a more robust mobile experience. “Digital is primary for us now,” Sirmans said. “Our community expects it and we know we have fans in the world, especially for our Latin American and Caribbean art. This is how we expand to them.”</p><p>Toney of APAP, a national service organization that supports and advances the performing arts presenting, booking and touring fields, carried the thought further, saying that by using online technologies, arts organizations could reach audiences globally, not solely the local audience members who can attend events in person. Moreover, the organizations can now expand time and run programming year-round, not just seasonally. This greater flexibility, she said, “should create an obligation to change” how the organizations conduct their activities. </p><p>Cohen agreed that the experimentation with online events in this new environment has transformed digital efforts from what had been decidedly secondary activities in the past to what are now a primary means of artistic expression and audience connections. They have taken on a new primary role, he said, side by side with the live event&#58; “These are new pathways to connection with people who wouldn’t have come in the door.”</p><p><strong>&#160;“Outdoors Is the New Indoors” </strong></p><p>The need to protect audiences from the virus has encouraged some organizations to seize opportunities to use and transform outdoor spaces. Maguire says the outdoor tent used for <em>Godspell </em>normally holds 400 people but because the organizers could allow only 50 people to view the show at a time, they had to improvise with the space. “We’re going to have to think more about how we do that so it’s a good experience,” she said.<strong></strong></p><p>The Perez museum is using its space differently, too, Sirmans said, and is trying to turn pandemic necessities into benefits. For a show on the African diaspora, for example, the museum doubled the indoor space that normally would have been allotted. This, he said, allowed for new types of juxtapositions and greater use of illustrative written and graphic materials. </p><p>In addition, the museum is repurposing its outdoor sculpture garden, which features an array of steel and stone works by artists such as Anthony Caro, Gonzalo Fonseca and Edgar Negret. The museum is holding lectures, a film program and collaborations with other arts institutions and educational programs outside. </p><p>“Outdoors is the new indoors,” Sirmans said. </p><p><strong>From Equity to Activism</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>Arts organizations are grappling with much more than logistical improvisation. They are having serious conversations about what the national reckoning with racial injustice means for them. &#160;Some organizations are considering fundamental shifts in their structure and the composition of their leadership to respond to the calls for greater equity and inclusiveness, according to the panelists. </p><p>Cohen, for one, called for organizations to better incorporate community and audience perspectives into their endeavors. “For some, audiences have been the ones least present in the planning,” he said, adding that reaching out to and including community input could be critical to organizations struggling to grow their audiences and maintain their relevance. “That’s your greatest opportunity going forward.” </p><p>This is true also in programming. For instance, Toney noted that it has become traditional that organizations offer every February—Black History Month—a Black-themed event or something created by Black artists. But artists of color should be integral to the arts events throughout the year, she said, so that organizations move away from the “white-centric canon.” In a conversation after the webinar, she followed up on that theme. “I know and have heard people in these organizations say, ‘Our audience won’t come. I know them,’” she said. “Then you have to do something about your audience. This is not easy to do.”</p><p>Toney also suggested that arts organizations might reimagine themselves as engines of progressive change. They could do this, in part, she said, by joining forces and speaking collectively, particularly on policy issues, more than they have in the past. “Really, it’s about positioning ourselves as one ecosystem with more joint action,” she said. </p><p>How much nonprofit arts organizations might embrace that advocacy model is unclear. Sirmans said he’s proud that Miami’s Perez museum has a staff and board as diverse as the city itself and features many artists of color in its collections and shows. How much the museum might speak up as a social advocate is a question, he said, that remains unanswered. </p><p>“We want to be that kind of place,” he said. “But we’re trying to figure out how we fit into that conversation.” </p>James Sterngold 1122020-11-12T05:00:00ZDespite the many challenges they face, arts organizations have some reason for optimism, according to a recent panel discussion11/23/2020 4:59:28 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / The Pandemic is Transforming The Arts—and It’s Not All Bad News Despite the many challenges they face, arts organizations 2137https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
High-Quality Art and Community Relevance Key to Healthy Arts Organizations29432GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>What are common strategies employed by leaders of sustainable arts organizations? How might arts and culture institutions achieve organizational health and financial sustainability? A recent report by SMU DataArts, in partnership with The Wallace Foundation addresses these questions and more. </p><p><a href="/knowledge-center/pages/the-alchemy-of-high-performing-arts-organizations.aspx">The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations</a> studies two cohorts of organizations&#58; 10 with a long track record of high performance and 10 that engineered a “turnaround” from low to high performance. Through an analysis of similarities across the two groups, the report offers a blueprint of how they achieved organizational health, the cornerstone of which appears to lie between programmatic excellence and community relevance. Though the study was undertaken prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s being shared with the hope that the past experiences of 20 arts organizations may inform thinking about strategies for recovery.</p><p>We spoke with Zannie Voss, Ph.D., director of SMU DataArts, over email to explore pivotal insights from the report. </p><p><strong>What is the significance of examining arts organizations that engineered a “turnaround” from low to high performance, instead of focusing your research solely on arts organizations that have proven to sustain organizational health over a long period of time?&#160; </strong></p><p>The situation of the average organization is a need and desire to improve performance—how to get from their current Point A to Point B and beyond. Turnaround organizations have been in a similar position not long ago and can illuminate the path forward. Had we focused only on arts organizations that had proven to sustain organizational health over a long period, we might have missed the opportunity to better understand how to get the ball rolling towards high performance. </p><p>We learned that the high performing arts organizations in this study were once turnaround organizations.&#160; Their turnaround simply occurred prior to the timeframe captured in the data for this project. This finding reinforced the notion that turnarounds are not only possible, but their success can endure.</p><p><strong>You shared that both cohorts follow the mantra “success breeds success,” and assert that achieving “tactical wins” creates a positive feedback loop. For organizations currently struggling to obtain financial health, how might they identify their first “tactical win” to pursue? </strong></p><p>Initial tactical wins come in all shapes and forms, and typically result from some degree of risk-taking or innovation. We heard several examples such as&#58; 1) a first large gift that followed a big idea or strategy shift for the organization’s future; 2) the first time a shift in strategy or new programming successfully attracted the intended audience; 3) the first time another organization agreed to the idea of a partnership; 4) the first time board giving reached 100%; and, 5) the first time people were willing to pay for digital programming. </p><p>Each organization will have its own answer to the question&#58; “What will be our first, early win?”</p><p><strong>Recognizing that this data was gathered and synthesized prior to the onset of COVID-19, how can the findings still serve as a guide for other arts organizations?&#160;</strong></p><p>Coming out of the pandemic, many organizations will be looking for guidance on how to turnaround performance and become more stable. We contacted study participants two months into the COVID-19 crisis to ask whether their mental model for how success happens still held at this unique time. They unanimously confirmed that the underlying principles still hold, although some indicated that aspects, such as community orientation and adaptive capability have taken on even greater importance. Still, we acknowledge that the pandemic’s toll on human lives, the economy and public perceptions about the safety of gathering to share cultural experiences in closed spaces may impact aspects of this model in untold ways (e.g., introduction of new elements, the critical nature of some elements over others, timeframe required, etc.).</p><p><strong>What do you hope leaders of arts organizations will take away from the report’s findings and insights? </strong></p><p>Success is not accidental or haphazard. All interviewees possess a mental map—or playbook—for how success happens, created with involvement from staff and board. I hope arts leaders use the model as a framework for analyzing where their organization stands on the various elements. Does it heavily emphasize high standards of program excellence but underinvest in its community? Is the organization’s culture built on trust, transparency and a participatory management style? Is the organization’s energy in a place of passion, aggression or resignation? Are all decisions guided by mission alignment? Given what the organization has, what it does and where its expertise lies, where are there new opportunities to be seized? </p><p>Ultimately, success takes a slow, controlled burn. Grounded plans recognize multiple steps in the process rather than assuming a single action or miracle moment will provide transformation. </p>Wallace editorial team792020-10-06T04:00:00ZAuthor of new report finds that successful arts and culture institutions credit careful planning and dedicated work10/6/2020 1:51:44 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / High-Quality Art and Community Relevance Key to Healthy Arts Organizations Author of new report finds that successful arts 920https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
What We Need from The Arts Right Now24124GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​​​​As arts organizations around the country plan to reopen, strategists and researchers at LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett have teamed up on a research initiative to help arts leaders understand what audiences want and expect from organizations during the pandemic—and how organizations can address the hopes, fears and needs of people as they consider returning. The new study, <a href="https&#58;//culturetrack.com/research/covidstudy/">Culture Track&#58; Culture and Community in a Time of Crisis</a>, based on responses from more than 120,000 survey respondents, sheds light on the current cultural landscape.<u> </u></p><p>We caught up with Jen Benoit-Bryan, vice president &amp; co-director of research at Slover Linett Audience Research and Diane Jean-Mary, partner and chief strategy officer at LaPlaca Cohen, over email to learn more about the implications of the study and how people might look to it for guidance.</p><p> <strong>We know you have been sharing these findings with arts leaders around the country. What has resonated with the field? How are organizations applying this data? </strong></p><p> <strong> <img class="wf-Image-Left" alt="Djm headshot_color.png" src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/What-We-Need-from-Arts-and-Culture-Right-Now/Djm%20headshot_color.png" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;175px;height&#58;175px;" />DJM</strong>&#58; Presenting the findings amidst our placeless, Zoom-fueled, reality has provided space for a truly national conversation surrounding the role of arts and culture in our society. Previously, our Culture Track road shows were highly localized, bringing in audiences from a particular city or region to discuss the latest findings. This year, we were able to have far greater dialogue at the national level as participants tune into our presentations from all around the country. This feels particularly vital in a year when we are all navigating the same global issues of health, a hurting economy, and the fight for racial justice. It’s been pretty incredible to see institutions around the country not just take meaningful insights from the study but also from each other. </p><p> <strong> <img class="wf-Image-Left" alt="Jen6.jpg" src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/What-We-Need-from-Arts-and-Culture-Right-Now/Jen6.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;width&#58;175px;height&#58;117px;" />JBB</strong>&#58; One of the most surprising and meaningful insights from the data has been the high level of arts and culture digital participation among the general public during COVID-19, and crucially, the finding that digital offerings seem to be expanding and diversifying participation. It has been fascinating to see that for many segments of the arts and culture sector, a lot of the people using digital content from organizations hadn’t attended that type of organization in person in the previous year—for example, 51 percent of people using digital content from science museums during COVID-19 hadn’t been to a science museum in person in 2019. </p><p>Perhaps even more importantly, those using digital content who hadn’t been in-person were much more likely to be diverse along demographics that we know are underrepresented in arts and cultural organizations, such as people with low incomes, low education levels and Black or African Americans. We have heard from many organizations who are already using these findings to explain why resources for digital engagement are critical now and in the future.</p><p> <strong>You’ve both been doing research on audiences for many years. What is different about these findings? What do audiences continue to value during a pandemic?</strong></p><p> <strong>JBB&#58;</strong> &#160;A central assumption we held when designing this work was the need to understand what communities require and want from cultural organizations during COVID-19. Therefore, it was critical that we hear from a range of audiences and attenders to culture—defined quite broadly—as well as the public with their varied types and degrees of connection to culture. That’s unique. Most studies focus on a single organization’s audiences or perhaps a portion of the cultural landscape like orchestras, but this study goes way beyond those frames of reference. The sheer scale of participation in the study—over 120,000 respondents—allowed us to slice and compare segments of the data in a more granular way, which is extremely powerful for understanding portions of the whole like users of digital arts and culture activities.</p><p> <strong>DJM</strong>&#58; COVID-19, in every fundamental way, has disrupted our sense of what normal looks like, and we’re seeing that bear out in the research. In a time of such great uncertainty, many are turning to creativity, perhaps as a way to regain a sense of agency, expression and enjoyment. It was great to see how many people are leaning into their inner artist and maker&#58; singing, crafting, baking, painting and more. There are also facets of culture that are just as vital now as they were before the pandemic, particularly in the ways that people perceive the value of the arts&#58; a force for connecting us to each other, for understanding the vastness of human experience, and for emotional and intellectual escape.&#160;</p><p> <strong>Was there anything that surprised you about these findings?</strong> </p><p> <strong>JBB&#58;</strong> I was surprised by the proportion of the public—96 percent—that sees a role for arts and culture organizations during a crisis like COVID-19. When we wrote this question, we thought many people might tell us that arts and culture should just “get out of the way” during a crisis, but people are looking to arts and culture for four main kinds of help&#58; support staying connected with others and educating kids; emotional support; practical support and opportunities for distraction and escape.<br><br><strong>What is one key finding you hope organizations will take away from the study?</strong></p><p> <strong>DJM</strong>&#58; The single most revealing finding was just how big the racial inclusion problem is in our sector. Anecdotally, the field understands that it has failed to welcome and serve communities of color and has made strides to confront diversity, but there’s still a long way to go to achieve equity and inclusion, and this is reflected in the data. Our survey reached 122,000 respondents, largely pulled from lists provided by over 650 cultural organizations around the nation. The overwhelming majority of those audiences are white, 85 percent of the audiences surveyed through their lists to be exact. Of those surveyed through cultural organizations’ lists, just three percent are Black, five percent are Hispanix/Latinx and four percent are Asian/Pacific Islander. Less than one percent is Native American. Every organization should reflect on this data, unpacking the barriers that have signaled to BIPOC audiences that we do not belong. </p><p>For the future relevance of the arts, cultural organizations will have to change alongside our society. And that change cannot be limited to the visitor-facing channels at their disposal. Audiences can see through the optics of superficial inclusion, they can feel when diversity is a mere checkbox. Cultural organizations should instead focus on building trust, relevance and connection with their audiences of color.&#160; </p><p> <strong>JBB&#58;</strong> &#160; The research also provides some clear evidence about the changes that would make arts and culture organizations better for Black or African American respondents and Hispanic or Latinx respondents. Almost three-quarters of Black or African American respondents, two-thirds of Hispanic or Latinx respondents and about half of the public want arts and culture organizations to become more centered on their communities and the people in them. This includes changes such as greater diversity; a focus on local artists, nonprofits and community; deepening engagement with young people; treating employees fairly; and being friendlier to all kinds of people. There’s more to unpack and explore here, particularly through the upcoming qualitative research coming next. </p><p> <strong>Did the data give any clues as to the future of organizations using digital content going forward?</strong></p><p> <strong>DJM</strong>&#58; With increasing financial pressure placed on cultural organizations to recoup revenue lost to COVID-19 closures, many institutions are assessing how best to monetize their virtual content. It is important as they examine all the options on the table, not to regard digital as a substitute for prior onsite revenues. The data suggests that the audience’s appetite for paid digital content is quite low. Instead, digital offerings present an opportunity for broadening audiences beyond the typical visitor. We’re seeing greater engagement particularly amongst people of color and lower income families.&#160;Digital is a great tool that institutions should deploy in service to bettering the lives of their communities, rather than as a driver of revenue.</p><p> <strong>What is the level of confidence on these findings? Do you feel they are broadly applicable?</strong></p><p> <strong>JBB&#58; </strong>As we designed the study, we made a few decisions with the goal of creating a broadly applicable and useful dataset. First, we defined “arts and culture” quite widely and worked to recruit participating organizations across the sector. We also worked with NORC [National Opinion Research Center] at the University of Chicago to draw an extremely rigorous and representative sample of the public with a margin of error of 2.88 percentage points. In survey design, we made the strategic decision not to ask any questions that were focused just on the organization distributing the survey—although we considered it—because we wanted these findings to be broadly useful to the arts and culture sector.&#160;</p><p> <strong>Given the findings, what kind of an arts experience would people be responsive to over the next six to 12 months?</strong></p><p> <strong>DJM</strong>&#58; Based on what we’re seeing from the data and hearing from the field, the most successful arts experiences of the future will be designed around what audiences are so desperately missing in their lives—connection, novelty and adventure. We’re in the wild west of creativity and invention, and people seem more willing to experiment with activities that help them reconnect with the parts of life we’ve lost. We are all craving connection with our loved ones and that will only grow in intensity as we move from one year in quarantine to the next. I bet that any arts organization that provides a way for friends and families to connect through shared, novel experiences will be a major hit with audiences. This is especially true if the experience embraces a participatory approach that invites the audience to be the engineers of the adventure, fun and sense of togetherness. Bonus points for experiences that get us off Zoom and into the world (safely, of course), and also for experiences that help parents and caregivers educate children in a fun and interactive way.&#160; </p><p> <em> <span> <span> <strong> </strong></span></span>Diane Jean-Mary is a global strategy consultant with expertise in organizational change and transformation for the field of arts and entertainment. As Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at LaPlaca Cohen, Diane oversees a dynamic range of projects, nationally and internationally, on cultural entrepreneurship, mission and purpose development, brand strategy, strategic visioning, and audience development across non-profit and corporate creative institutions. She also leads the firm's ongoing Culture Track study, an insights and innovation platform dedicated to addressing the most pressing challenges in the cultural sector. <br></em></p><p> <em><span><span><strong></strong></span></span>Jen Benoit-Bryan is the Vice President &amp; Co-director of Research at Slover Linett, a firm that uses the tools of research and evaluation to help the cultural sector understand its participants and communities, experiment with new strategies for engagement, and connect more deeply to more people. Jen has overseen a portfolio of over sixty complex client engagements over the past six years at Slover Linett, using the tools of research and evaluation to help organizations meet their goals. Since coming to Slover Linett in 2014, she has worked on wide-ranging, often multi-year projects with the National Academy of Sciences, Central Park Conservancy, the Kennedy Center, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Carnegie Hall, Washington National Opera, Ballet Austin, the High Line, Dallas Zoo, and SFMOMA, among many other arts, culture, and informal learning organizations. Jen serves as the Principal Investigator &amp; Slover Linett Team Director for the Culture &amp; Community in a Time of Crisis (CCTC) study conducted in 2020 in partnership with LaPlaca Cohen. Jen earned her Ph.D. in public administration &amp; research methodology at the University of Illinois, Chicago. </em></p><em> </em>Wallace editorial team792020-09-09T04:00:00ZNew large-scale survey on cultural sector in the pandemic finds audiences crave meaningful digital experiences, more racial inclusion and connection with others9/11/2020 3:26:35 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / What We Need from The Arts Right Now New large-scale survey on cultural sector in the pandemic finds audiences crave more 1682https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
How Can Artists Help Reimagine Our Future Post-COVID?24344GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61 <p>As society looks to address the ravaging effects of both COVID-19 and systemic racism, artists and arts organizations have an essential role in reimagining the future. In an Op-Ed for <em>KCET’s Southland Sessions</em>, Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director for UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, argues that while the products of the creative sector will undoubtedly continue as indispensable contributions for a thriving society moving forward, it is artistic process and creative problem solving that are most crucial to paving the way towards a vital and inclusive future. Edmunds argues that these intrinsic benefits of the arts are often overlooked, particularly in discussions about post-pandemic recovery. </p><p>To nurture this philosophy, arts organizations can and must help get artists to the recovery table. It starts with a commitment to what Edmunds calls “duty of care.” For Edmunds, what this looks like is maintaining transparency and cultivating pathways of information&#58; “We have to provide as much information as possible to artists. We’re saying here’s what we’re seeing, here’s what we’re learning from various organizational/institutional vantage points, so that knowledge is transferred and shared rather than left dangling in the air. Artists will know what to do for their work and process and decision-making. The most important thing for them to know is that they’re not being abandoned—they are being sought.” </p><p>In addition, Edmunds says, arts organizations can proactively work to ensure that artists have a prominent voice in post-pandemic recovery conversations. She observes that it tends to be the most visible leader who is invited to the policy roundtable, but that person may not necessarily be best suited for the task at hand. To address this, she offers, “It’s incumbent upon us, as leaders, to understand the dynamic of what’s being sought, and to bring artists into the room with us.” </p><p><a href="https&#58;//www.kcet.org/shows/southland-sessions/kristy-edmunds-public-care-is-our-most-durable-good">Read Edmunds’ Op-Ed on the KCET website</a>. </p> Wallace editorial team792020-08-11T04:00:00ZOp-Ed for KCET argues that artists—and the organizations that support them—can play a vital role in post-pandemic problem solving8/11/2020 6:17:51 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / How Can Artists Help Reimagine Our Future Post-COVID Op-Ed for KCET argues that artists—and the organizations that support 1338https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
Experimentation and Refinement a Key to Audience Building in the Arts3968GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>Introducing a recent panel on how to build audiences in the arts, Monique Martin, director of programming at New York’s Harlem Stage stressed the human aspects of arts performances. “I want to acknowledge the importance of community and the desire for our audiences to be part of a community,” she said. “We are in polarizing times and the arts are a refuge for many.” </p><p>But how can organizations help ensure that people seek out that refuge and continue to take advantage of it?</p><p>For the last four years, The Wallace Foundation has been working with 25 performing arts organizations on the <a href="/knowledge-center/the-arts/Pages/default.aspx">Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS)</a> initiative to help stem declines in arts audiences. Using data, market research and other tools, BAS organizations take on a process of continuous learning to bring in new audiences, encourage repeat attendance, attract a particular demographic or address any other goal that serves their mission.</p><p>“Continuous learning begins with the premise&#58; we are unlikely to get it right the first time,” Bahia Ramos, Wallace’s director of arts, told the crowd gathered at the panel at The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) annual conference. Martin was moderating the panel, which also included Jenny Reik, director of marketing and communications at Cal Performances, Maure Aronson, executive director at Global Arts Live and Andrew Jorgensen, general director at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL). All shared stories of risk taking and resilience on the road to building their audiences. &#160;</p><h3><strong>Opera, Food, Millennials…oh my!</strong></h3><p>Opera Theatre of Saint Louis had set out to <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/think-opera-is-not-for-you-opera-theatre-of-saint-louis-says-think-again.aspx">target millennials and Gen-Xers</a>, with a special emphasis on populations of color. The journey began with a period of research, after which the company launched a multifaceted campaign with the goal of expanding OTSL’s visibility throughout St. Louis. With expanded print advertising and digital billboards, the organization hoped that greater visibility would heighten awareness of OTSL and ultimately help sell tickets. Unfortunately, the campaign did not produce tangible results. </p><p>“The campaign taught us that we don’t have the resources necessary to blanket the entire St. Louis region with our brand message year-round,” Jorgensen explained. “More importantly, it underscored that visibility by itself, without meaningful context, is not enough to entice potential audiences to buy tickets and get them into the theater.” </p><p>In revisiting the company’s past experiences with hosting preperformance lawn picnics and other community events, Jorgensen noted that they learned the social component is a key part of the OTSL experience. So the organization implemented “Opera Tastings,” a series of concerts with a diverse group of singers performing a range of popular pieces from the history of opera at restaurants and other venues across the St. Louis region. Local chefs pair food and drink to the music, and tickets are $25. In the first year, nearly 50 percent of new attendees at Opera Tastings ended up buying a ticket to the company’s festival season.</p><p>Although they were successful, Jorgensen said, Opera Tastings were also expensive. “They did not produce enough revenue to support themselves without philanthropic backing,” he explained. When asked how the organization plans to move forward, he noted, “It’s a question we are struggling with. As passionate arts presenters, we have a desire to always be adding programming and reaching more people. Opera Tastings is only four years old, and it’s hard to imagine letting go of it.” </p><p>This spring OTSL will host a modified version of Opera Tastings with fewer events, larger audiences and a slightly higher price point, as they continue to learn how to better reflect the demographics of key audiences. For example, African Americans comprise the largest non-white group in St. Louis, so the organization will continue its commitment to present work that they’ve learned might appeal to African American audiences. “Representation matters” Jorgensen said. </p><h3><strong>A Music Festival Grows in Boston</strong></h3><p>Global Arts Live (formerly World Music/CRASHarts) learned a similar lesson about programming when it began its <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/world-music-crasharts-tests-new-format-new-name-to-draw-new-audiences.aspx">effort to expand audiences</a> with extensive market research. The research suggested that the organization's name was too hard to remember and its brand could be more clear and consistent. So the organization rebranded, revealing <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/new-name-new-look-to-draw-a-new-generation-of-fans.aspx">its new name, Global Arts Live</a>, in May 2019.</p><p>Research also suggested that the organization’s current audience was growing older. This led Aronson and his team to start programming events for a younger audience, specifically in the 21-40 age range. “We thought that changing our marketing and adding small, secondary events, such as meetups, classes and talks, would reengage the younger audience by creating a sense of community,” he said. “But we learned that experimenting with on-mission programming was far more effective.” </p><p>Global Arts Live started producing 10 to 15 targeted concerts per year in “millennial-friendly clubs,” which were incredibly successful. These target concerts attracted between 7,000 and 10,000 attendees, which was a big jump from the 500 attendees that the less-successful secondary events attracted. Aronson and his team also developed CRASHfest, a global festival offering a vibrant and social atmosphere. This idea stemmed from focus groups the company executed during its market research phase. The festival, targeted toward millennials, showcased different types of performances in the same place. “We found that expanding artistic programming worked in parallel with CRASHfest, not only as a reengagement tool, but also as an audience building tool,” Aronson said. “The two strategies worked together to create multiple points of frequency.”</p><p>The first CRASHfest event took place at the House of Blues in Boston in 2016. Fifteen-hundred people attended, meeting the organization’s goal and grossing $38,000. Sixty-one percent of the audience was new to the organization, and 56 percent of the new audience was under the age of 40. “It’s nice to see it being multigenerational--reaching new audiences but keeping our old audience happy as well,” Aronson said. “You’re still finding a fair amount of people over the age of 40 coming to these events, which is important because we’d be in trouble if we lost our old audience.” </p><p>One surprising finding, according to Aronson, was that millennials didn’t mind being in an intergenerational audience. The two other organizations on the panel agreed that they had also made presumptions about their target audience that proved untrue. </p><h3><strong>Students Take the Reins</strong></h3><p>Reik noted that through her team’s efforts at Cal Performances to reach a younger audience, they too learned that millennials had more things in common with their older audiences than they would have expected. “Many of us had preconceived ideas of what a millennial generation would need. Some of what we found was that younger audiences liked the same things that the older audiences did—they actually like our core programming,” Reik said. “The other really interesting thing is that the current audience actually liked the really edgy stuff.” </p><p>During the first year of the BAS initiative, Cal Performances tested multiple approaches to target the 18- to 22-year-old student demographic on the UC Berkeley campus. “One of our most illuminating failures came in that very first year, and it is important to start with because our successful programming evolved as a result of that,” Reik shared. </p><p>Cal Performances had implemented a program called Citizen Dance to give students access to the organization’s resources and stage. Staff saw this as an opportunity for the many student-led dance crews to create large-scale work in cooperation with emerging choreographers. But participation was much lower than expected. “We learned quickly that students wanted to be in charge of their own program delivery, and they saw Citizen Dance as competing for their time and attention. It wasn’t enhancing their own experience,” Reik explained.</p><p>The difficulties they experienced launching Citizen Dance led Cal Performances to significantly strengthen student ownership of events. The organization attracted a close-knit group of students who were involved in every decision regarding the genesis, production, artists, programming, marketing and more. The organization then launched Front Row, an event curated by the students themselves. “We taught students how to be presenters themselves—they received all of the credit,” Reik said. The results were quite different from Citizen Dance—more than 45,000 students attended Front Row, many for the first time. </p><p>While building this community of students, the staff at Cal Performances also learned that price matters greatly to this audience. As a result, the organization implemented Flex Pass, which offered students four tickets for $40 to Cal Performances’ main stage events. Reik said Flex Pass was a great success in its first two years. In year three of the programming, the organization increased the price of Flex Pass in an attempt to “move the needle upward” against the investment costs of making seats available at discounted prices. “We found that even a five dollar increase had a fairly significant impact on sales,” said Reik. </p><h3><strong>Risks and Rewards</strong></h3><p>The three leaders agreed that risk taking and experimenting with new strategies and tactics, such as those described, was vital to better connect with their audiences. While they may have tried different methods and experienced different challenges along the way, they agreed that all departments must be involved in the audience-building work from the beginning for it to succeed. “When different departments work together from the beginning—when the structure and whole concept is built from that foundation—you can move quicker to execution and success,” Reik explained. </p><p>“You have to be all in&#58; the staff, the board, to succeed or to fail in this project,” Aronson added. “We see the future as optimistic. The work is continuous; it’s incremental, and you have to have a vision in the organization to implement your learnings.”&#160; </p><p><em>Learn more about the arts organizations who were on the panel&#58;</em><br> <a href="https&#58;//calperformances.org/">Cal Performances</a> is a performing arts presenting, commissioning and producing organization based at the University of California, Berkeley. &#160;</p><p><a href="https&#58;//www.globalartslive.org/">Global Arts Live</a> brings international music, contemporary dance and jazz from around the world to stages across Greater Boston. </p><p><a href="https&#58;//www.opera-stl.org/">Opera Theatre of Saint Louis</a> is known for its short annual festival season in late May and June, and for its commitment to commissioning new operas and developing emerging talent. </p><p><a href="https&#58;//www.harlemstage.org/">Harlem Stage</a> provides opportunity and support for artists of color, makes performances easily accessible to all audiences and introduces children to the rich diversity and inspiration of the performing arts. </p><p>To learn more about Wallace’s building audiences work, visit our <a href="/knowledge-center/the-arts/Pages/default.aspx">knowledge center</a>.</p>Jenna Doleh912020-02-11T05:00:00ZYour source for research and ideas to expand high quality learning and enrichment opportunities. Supporting: School Leadership, After School, Summer and Extended Learning Time, Arts Education and Building Audiences for the Arts.2/13/2020 5:37:34 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / Experimentation and Refinement a Key to Audience Building in the Arts Arts leaders on panel say data, market research and 914https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
What Theater Can Do Best24121GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>Two years ago, we embarked on our Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS) Stories Series, which has chronicled early accounts from the BAS initiative. <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/denver-center-for-the-performing-arts-is-cracking-the-millennial-code.aspx">One of the organizations featured</a> was Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA), focusing on Off-Center—an experimental branch of DCPA’s Theatre Company. Off-Center is helmed and curated by Charlie Miller, who also serves as the&#160;Associate Artistic Director of&#160;Denver Center&#160;Theatre Company. </p><p> To see how the work has been progressing, Corinna Schulenburg, Director of Communications at Theatre Communications Group, sat down with Miller to discuss Off-Center’s work to date, what they’ve learned and recommendations for other organizations seeking to expand their work in audience building. <br> <br> This following is an excerpted and edited version of the exchange.</p><p> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; Can you provide a brief overview of the Denver Center and your work with the Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative?</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is a nonprofit theater based in Denver, and it's a unique organization because it houses both the Broadway presenting house and the regional theater that we call the Theatre Company. Inside the Theatre Company, there's a line of programming that I lead called Off-Center, which was created in 2010 to be a theatrical testing center, a place where we could experiment with new ideas and new forms and new ways of engaging a new and younger audience. <br> <br> This really came out of the challenge we were facing a decade ago—subscriptions were declining and audiences were aging. There was more competition for entertainment dollars, so we had to find a new way to engage an audience who wasn’t necessarily predisposed to theater the way that their parents and grandparents were. We were determined to create a new kind of programming geared toward that audience and that’s where Off-Center came from. </p><p>Around the same time, I became really fascinated with immersive theater and the way that it put the audience at the center of the experience. I also felt like it was a great thing for Denver because people who come to Colorado enjoy experiences. They like being active, and immersive theater allows an audience to be active inside of a story. So we set out to build the DCPA’s capacity to produce large scale immersive work through Off-Center.</p><p class="wf-Element-ImageCaption"><br><img alt="miller-schulenburg.jpg" src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/What-Theater-Can-Do-Best/miller-schulenburg.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /> &#160;&#160;Corinna Schulenburg, director of communications, Theatre Communications Group and Charlie Miller, associate artistic director, Denver Center Theatre Company. </p><p><strong>Schulenburg&#58; Can you say a little bit more about the aesthetic and the audience experience of immersive theater?</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; For me what immersive means—and I also often use the word “experiential” interchangeably—is that it puts the audience at the center. They have some kind of role in the experience or in the story. It doesn't mean that the audience is playing a part like the actor, but instead that there is no fourth wall. It also needs to engage your senses and often involves not being seated the whole time, sometimes moving through multiple spaces, sometimes moving through the real world, but within a story that serves as a lens through which you’re viewing the world.<br> &#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160;&#160; <br> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; I know that an initial impulse was around engaging millennial audiences, particularly because you are a millennial yourself. Do you feel that millennial audience members&#160;have a particular relationship to this kind of work?</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; On average we’ve seen 35 percent of the audience is made up of millennials for these experiential productions, which is a departure from the Theatre Company, which is closer to 16 percent. We've also noticed that there is a halo effect, where you create programming that you think will speak to one generation and it becomes compelling to other generations. The common denominator is not your age, it’s how adventurous you are and what you’re looking for in your cultural experience. <br> <br> What’s exciting to us is that the work we’re doing is engaging a significantly newer and younger audience but it’s also engaging a diverse audience and people of all ages who are interested in engaging with their art in a different way. <br> <br> Also through the work we’ve been doing, I've continued to feel a tension in artistic programming between listening to what the audience wants and just doing interesting work that people will be excited about that they didn't know they want. There’s the famous Henry Ford quote that I love, something like, “If I listened to what people wanted I would have just given them a faster horse.” <br> <br> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; I remember in some of your past work you’ve uncovered that there’s a gap in what they think they want and what you actually found they wanted through market research.</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; &#160;As we were starting our Wallace-funded work we did a lot of market research, both qualitative and quantitative, to look at millennials in Denver and to understand if they would be interested in immersive theater. And when we asked them what type of experience, what attributes they wanted in an experience, they wanted “entertaining,” “lighthearted and fun,” “casual and relaxed.” They did not want “exclusive,” “serious” or “high end.” </p><p> <em>Sweet &amp; Lucky</em>, which was the first big project we produced, was serious and emotional and contemplative and people loved it, but it was the opposite of what they said they wanted. And it turns out that some of the subsequent work we've done that has been categorized as “entertaining, lighthearted and fun” has not been as popular among audiences. So even though they said they thought they knew what they wanted, it turns out they didn't. <br> <br> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; Since Wallace released the Building Audiences for Sustainability Story on your work, what has changed since then? What have you been up to?</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; The production that is running right now is called <em> <a href="https&#58;//www.denvercenter.org/tickets-events/between-us/">Between Us</a></em>, and it is a trio of one-on-one experiences between one actor and one audience member. This was inspired, in part, by an observation from <em>Sweet &amp; Lucky</em>&#58; during that production, every audience member received a brief one-on-one with an actor, and we saw how impactful that was for audience members. </p><p>Through all our projects this spring I've been fascinated with how much agency we can give the audience. How do we create a situation where the audience can show up as themselves, not have to play a part, but can have a meaningful and authentic impact on the direction and possibly even the outcome of the story? And how do we do that in a way that still guarantees that there's satisfying narrative arc? We're really experimenting with that in all of these pieces. We've had to rethink how we do things and learn along the way. <br> <br> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; Do you have any advice for smaller organizations looking to begin the work of audience building?</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; &#160;I think it's really important to get feedback from your audience. You don’t have to have a big budget to collect information and to use that to inform some of your decisions. It’s a skill set and a muscle that you can develop, and there are free tools out there to help. I believe that audience members have more buy-in with an organization if they feel like they’re able to share their opinion, so I’m a big proponent of continuous learning—as Wallace calls it—and using data to support strategy. <br> <br> Another thing we've learned is that experimental and nonlinear work has been least successful, as determined by audience response. We’ve heard that loud and clear on three different projects now. I always have to remind myself that at the core you have to provide a good story and that’s what brings people in. Theater is an art of storytelling.</p><p>Finally, I’m a huge proponent of prototyping and taking small, incremental steps to improve based on what you learn. The analogy I like to give is climbing up two feet and trying out your parachute and then climbing up another two feet, rather than just jumping off a cliff and hoping that the parachute opens. The more you can iterate, prototype and experiment, that can be really valuable. It’s a way to take calculated risks.</p><p> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; We’ve been talking a lot about the role human contact plays in the work you do at Off-Center, so I wanted to end by mentioning the New York Times article, &quot;</strong><strong><a href="https&#58;//www.nytimes.com/2019/03/23/sunday-review/human-contact-luxury-screens.html">Human Contact Is Now A Luxury Good</a></strong><strong>&quot; – have you seen it?</strong></p><p>Miller&#58; Oh yes, I did see this piece. <br> <br> <strong>Schulenburg&#58; The research suggests that it used to be that people who had resources and money had access to screens. Now, it's reversed—folks who are economically distressed have screens around them all the time and human contact has become a luxury good for the wealthy. What’s so interesting to me about the work that you are doing, it feels like it's connected to that, that you are hitting on the significance of direct human contact. It seems to me like you're tapping into a real wellspring of hunger.</strong> <br> <br> Miller&#58; I think you're right there. This relates to why I think millennials are drawn to immersive work. Our lives are mediated through screens, and theater like this forces you to put your screen down and to just be real, present and embodied. <br> <br> Spending an hour with a stranger and just getting to know them is a unique experience; you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world from a different point of view. My hope is that this can wake us up from the monotony of our everyday routine and give us a new perspective on our own lives and on the world. That’s what we’re really trying to do at the end of the day. That’s what theater can do best. </p>Wallace editorial team792019-06-25T04:00:00ZChecking in with Denver Center’s Theater Company on what they’ve learned about their audiences from championing immersive theater6/27/2019 3:57:01 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / What Theater Can Do Best Checking in with Denver Center’s Theater Company on what they’ve learned about their audiences 2061https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
Addressing the "Uncertainty Gap" and Other Audience-Building Strategies24057GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p><em>Two years ago, we kicked off our BAS (Building Audiences for Sustainability) Stories Project with a written and video account of Ballet Austin’s effort </em><a href="/knowledge-center/pages/ballet-austin-building-audiences-for-sustainability.aspx"><em>to expand audiences for unfamiliar works</em></a><em>. To see how the work has been progressing, we asked the company’s executive director Cookie Ruiz to jot down some thoughts. The following is an edited version of our email exchange. </em></p><p><strong>In the original story, the author notes that Ballet Austin was “not considering altering programming to meet audience tastes, but they hoped to understand how audiences were viewing and responding to what the ballet company produced.” Why is it so important to you not to change who you are for the sake of growing your audience, and how do you strike a balance between what audiences expect and what Ballet Austin wants to deliver. </strong></p><p>While we value and respect the restaging of wonderful works that reflect the history of ballet and great classic stories, we cherish the process of bringing new works to the stage. There is simply nothing like it. Today’s artists have much to say and we believe that art is an effective way to share different perspectives. </p><p>So we wonder…why are people so reluctant to try something new when it comes to their entertainment? What is the source of the reluctance? Knowing now that there is an “uncertainty gap,” what does it take to close that gap and trigger a sale for work with which people are less familiar? </p><p>If all we needed to do was change the programming, we would never have needed to ask this question, and we would have missed out on the most fascinating three years of learning. </p><p><strong>Based on market research findings, Ballet Austin adjusted many activities surrounding the performances to help audiences feel more comfortable about attending the ballet. Have you continued growing these programs, and do you have any new findings to share?&#160;</strong></p><p>One of the most valuable disciplines coming from BAS is the importance of the “not to do” list. Many arts organizations offer a veritable plethora of audience engagement opportunities. We all do them because, let’s face it, people keep coming and it’s probably not hurting anything. </p><p>No more.&#160; Even the safe “legacy” strategies we’ve all been doing for years–such as the pre-curtain lecture and the post-performance talk-back–take time and planning that could be used elsewhere, if these strategies are deemed to be ineffective. </p><p>In Round One of BAS we learned that our audience seeks two major connections through the work&#58;&#160; 1) a social connection and/or 2) an emotional/intellectual connection.&#160; We used this information to design an array of pre-sale to post-performance experience paths. </p><p>Last season we had the opportunity to sit down with six groups of audience members; one of those groups was comprised of adult dance students selected from the 35% of our audience that self-reports that they are currently taking dance classes.</p><p>When showed sample digital video content that was used to promote ticket sales to a recent “less familiar work,” this one group skewed dramatically away from the other five groups in their response to the content. What emerged from this research engagement was the realization that we have a third connection…a<strong> </strong>“kinesthetic connection.” These audience members experience the work through their own bodies, with a focus on the choreography itself. Through data mining we learned the happy news that those taking a dance class prior to purchasing their first ticket are more than twice as likely to buy a ticket. </p><p><strong>How does Ballet Austin make decisions on what to continue and what to abandon?</strong> <strong>Can you give an example of something you stopped doing, because the research told you the costs outweighed the benefits?</strong></p><p>When we design a prototype, it has a clearly articulated goal and specific measureable expectations. The Wallace method requires routine evaluation of the prototype. During this process we discuss if there is a variable we might change, followed by a retest. When we realize that the prototype completely failed to meet its goals, then it is out and the prototype is retired.</p><p>An example of this came in year one when we piloted a livestream studio rehearsal, “Ballet Austin Live.” Our team became quite adept at delivering a series of well-produced episodes, but the livestream did not meet its key benchmarks. In fact, during a series of focus groups we learned that we were actually confusing some members of the audience who had no understanding of where the livestream was taking place, or why the dancers weren’t in costume. We made the assumption that viewers would understand the rehearsal process. &#160;</p><p>Ultimately by freeing up the time and considerable dollars, we learned that these “social connectors” preferred for us to send them a “movie trailer” style video with all the pertinent information, helping them to quickly forward to their friends as a suggestion to join them.</p><p><strong>What advice can you offer to organizations who seek to learn from Ballet Austin’s experiences?</strong></p><ul><li>Listen to your audience. We often assume we know what our audiences want, without ever actually asking. At Ballet Austin, we implemented a “Listening Tour” where we conducted calls and in-person sessions to listen to our customers. We found this information essential to help us understand where to focus our efforts.</li><li>You don’t need expensive tools to gather information. The phone calls and in-person sessions were a low-cost way to receive feedback, and Survey Monkey is an easy tool, available to anyone.</li><li>When developing new strategies, articulate and write down a specific goal so that you’re able to accurately measure the outcome.&#160; This is important because it reminds you to end a prototype if it is not successful. This also helps prevent “legacy strategies” that remain year after year, without being able to point to the specific outputs that justify the time and budget support. </li></ul><p><strong>In the 2017 video you said, “We’re asking ourselves what we know and what do we need to know?” What do you know now that you didn’t know two years ago? </strong></p><p>We thought we were dealing with an issue of familiarity, a lack of information. If that had been true we could have solved this by simply providing information. We now know we are dealing with something far more nuanced, an “uncertainty gap” that must be closed in order to trigger a sale. We also found that from time to time we were actually inadvertently “widening” the gap rather than closing it. </p><p>Titles matter, too.<strong> </strong>If the title of the work does not resonate,<strong> </strong>we can lose potential audience members, and we don’t get them back. Related, we’ve retired the term “non-narrative<strong>.”&#160; </strong>The attraction and need for a narrative arc is strong among most audience members, but there is room to differentiate between story, plot and inspiration. Audiences are not homogeneous. If we fail to approach our audience members in a highly-segmented way, they simply won’t hear us. </p><p>Young does not necessarily equal open-minded.&#160; Our research shows us that while 70 percent of our audience is under the age of 51, and while our city is filled with young technology-focused professionals, younger audience members tend to select the most familiar work. The audience for less familiar/new work currently relates to educational attainment (the average educational attainment of these audience members is a Master’s degree) and life experience. Also, nearly 60% of our audience members were involved in our art form (dance) as a child; 34% of our audience is taking dance today and 35% of their children are currently taking dance. </p><p>Finally, the magic of number three&#58; we’ve learned that once an audience member attends their third performance, they are more likely to repurchase, becoming our repeat customer with whom we can develop a long relationship.</p>Wallace editorial team792019-01-29T05:00:00ZBallet Austin continues to gather information, listen to its audiences and develop new strategies.1/29/2019 3:00:08 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / Addressing the "Uncertainty Gap" and Other Audience-Building Strategies Ballet Austin continues to gather information 1296https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx

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