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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 932https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
Orchestrating Digital Arts Programming to Meet the Moment22032GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​​​​​​​​​As various performing arts organizations across the country venture toward reopening, many have been forever changed by the pandemic. Some of these changes have been positive for both organizations and audiences—shifting away from status quo and toward new levels of innovation and accessibility. One such shift has been the widespread adoption of digital programs. Indeed, a study, <a href="https&#58;//culturetrack.com/research/covidstudy/" target="_blank"><em>Culture Track&#58; Culture and Community in a Time of Crisis</em></a>, conducted during 2020 and commissioned by Wallace, has uncovered a high level of participation in digital programs during the pandemic.</p><p>To further explore the crucial role of digital in the performing arts, we recently connected with two grant recipients from Wallace’s <a href="/knowledge-center/building-audiences-for-sustainability/pages/default.aspx">Building Audiences for Sustainability</a> initiative, which ended in 2019&#58; Seattle Opera and Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Marketing Director Kristina Murti at Seattle Opera and Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes and Managing Director Emika Abe at Woolly Mammoth shared insights from their respective organizations’ creation of digital programs, highlighting some of the advantages and challenges that they’ve experienced. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity. </p><p> <strong>Looking back at the past year, what one piece of digital content do you think was your most successful, interesting, significant or surprising? And why?</strong></p><p> <strong>Goyanes&#58;</strong> In many ways, Woolly Mammoth was built to meet a moment like this, as risk-taking and innovation are at the core of what we do. From the outset of the pandemic, we wanted to create opportunities to continue to spark conversation through theatre and to quickly provide jobs for artists and technicians who were left unemployed. We decided to commission two works specifically for alternative mediums. It feels important to talk about both since they were both significant for us, and also so different from each other, which really showcases how wide-ranging this type of content can be.&#160;</p><p>The first was commissioning the Telephonic Literary Union to create <a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IcmSt8x4h0" target="_blank"><em>Human ​Resources</em></a>, which repurposed a customer service hotline into an intimate audio anthology for remote times. The project contained audio experiences written by authors of color, employed actors from all over the country, and spurred audiences to listen, reflect and try to find the “Super Secret Happiness Code” embedded within the hotline. As evidence of its success, six months later, <em>Human&#160;Resources</em> had a future life—The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presented the piece for their local community last month. </p><p><a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kjPJbg0cwE" target="_blank"><img src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/Orchestrating-Digital-Arts-Programming-to-Meet-the-Moment/this-is-who-i-am.jpg" alt="this-is-who-i-am.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" /></a>The second project, <a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kjPJbg0cwE" target="_blank"><em>This is Who I Am​​</em></a>, was a co-commission with New York City’s Play Company for Playwright and Director Amir Nizar Zuabi to write a play specifically for our current digital platform, <a href="https&#58;//www.woollyondemand.net/auth" target="_blank">Woolly on Demand</a>. Zuabi embraced that challenge completely and wrote the story of two characters, a Father and his Son, meeting on video chat with the hope of overcoming their estrangement. This fully realized production was rehearsed and performed entirely remotely, with its two actors, Ramsey Faragallah and Yousof Sultani, performing nightly from their own kitchens. We shared the play through a five-way co-production with American Repertory Theater in MA, The Guthrie Theater in MN and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.&#160;</p><p> <strong><a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwjUaBA9j0E" target="_blank"><img src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/Orchestrating-Digital-Arts-Programming-to-Meet-the-Moment/don-giovanni.jpg" alt="don-giovanni.jpg" style="margin&#58;5px;" />​</a>Murti&#58;</strong> In my opinion, our <a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwjUaBA9j0E" target="_blank"><em>Don Giovanni</em></a>, recorded in January, was our most significant opera recording this season.&#160; It was the second full opera we recorded, and the first work we did not record in our main performance hall. There’s a lot of assumptions in opera about “how things need to be” and the idea of recording a “performance” outside of our main performance hall was not something we were seriously considering earlier in the pandemic—until we needed to, and then we decided to build a sound/film studio in our administration/operations center. We also recorded the audio separately from the staging and synced everything together in a pretty seamless way. The idea that we could record the performance “off-site” brought confidence to our next project, <a href="https&#58;//youtu.be/O35L90nbSVI" target="_blank"><em>Flight</em></a>, which was recorded really off-site&#58; at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. That project is most certainly the pinnacle of what we’ve done so far but having <em>Don Giovanni</em> under our belt and producing opera in an entirely new way was crucial to being able to put together an amazing product like <em>Flight</em>.&#160; </p><p> <strong>What has been the biggest challenge that your organization has faced while reconfiguring its programming for the digital space? </strong><u> </u></p><p> <strong>Abe&#58;</strong> It’s hard to pinpoint what the biggest challenge has been, as there have been so many! </p><p>One challenge has been that in undertaking new digital projects, we really went back to being beginners, even though Woolly has been around for 41 years. At first, we didn’t know what types of professionals we needed to engage to create work online. As we were seeking an outlet to share our work virtually, new hosting and streaming platforms for the theatre community were rushing into existence to tap into a new market. We had to evaluate our options without any particular expertise on our staff about video formatting or ways to stream from your computer to your television. At least we can say with confidence that we know a lot more now than we did a year ago.</p><p>Fortunately, because so many other theatres were making similar pivots into the digital sphere, we were able to turn to our colleagues for guidance—and then later on, to share our own insights with others. It has been heartening to see the many ways in which the theatre industry has come together to collaborate and support each other through this pandemic.</p><p> <strong>Murti&#58;</strong> We have not been able to use our main performance venue, McCaw Hall, consistently as a recording site so we have had to <a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoEUBC7wm0o" target="_blank">reimagine</a> several of our Opera Center spaces as movie sets. Due to social distancing requirements and space considerations, we also had to record the music separately from the staging. These two issues were challenging but allowed us to think way outside of the box. As mentioned, <em>Flight</em>, which premiered this month, takes place in an airport terminal and was filmed on location at The Museum of Flight, an impressive museum filled with aircraft and large spaces that feels very much like an airport. No opera stage set will ever match the scale and brilliance of being at that location for this opera.&#160; </p><p> <strong>Was there any type of program you tried along the way that didn’t work, or didn’t work as expected? If so, what did you learn from this experience?</strong></p><p> <strong>Murti&#58;</strong> We’ve really experimented a lot with community programming. What format works?&#160; Should they occur at a specific date and time? Do we take reservations? Do we pre-record the entire talk and then edit into a more formal video? What’s the best length?&#160; We’ve tried a lot of things here and continue to experiment.&#160; </p><p>In general, I’d say we’ve found that shorter (20-minutes or less) is better than longer. We are still trying to determine whether it’s better to have a Zoom-style event with a set date and time, which people can join and feel like they are part of the discussion, or an event that is pre-recorded.&#160; </p><p> <strong>Goyanes&#58;</strong> Close to the beginning of the pandemic, we decided to experiment in the learning space, specifically offering classes entitled “Woolly for the Body, Mind and Spirit.” We offered a dance class, a class that paired a contemporary book with a contemporary play that Woolly had produced, as well as an acting class specifically geared for video audition techniques. We have not offered classes like this at Woolly in a long time, and we struggled with enrollment for many reasons, not the least of which was that we were launching this while COVID-19 numbers were high in the summer of 2020. The emotional toll of the pandemic, as well as the isolation, has been hard on our staff and our audiences. While we are energized by class ideas, in hindsight we needed more time for our community to wrap its head not only around what shelter-in-place meant, but also what it meant for Woolly to move into an intentionally educational space again. Another takeaway was that we learned to stick to what we do best and adapt it to the moment, rather than launch entirely new offerings for our audience. </p><p> <strong>Have there been any unexpected advantages to presenting virtual programming? If so, what does this success look like? </strong></p><p> <strong>Murti&#58;</strong> I touched on this earlier with the idea of separating the audio and staging recordings—that is something we did not consider last summer but has allowed us to expand into new and different locations and possibilities. We are currently planning where to record our upcoming <em>Tosca</em> and are considering one of the most beautiful cathedrals in our city. <br> <br> Another advantage to virtual programming is the ability for people to watch the opera more than once.&#160; We’ve found that a lot of people do this. For<em>The Elixir of Love</em>, our subscribers watched the opera on average 1.8 times. We keep each of our digital programs available to subscribers for three weeks following their online premiere, and many have reported watching early on and then again later on.&#160; </p><p> <strong>Do you expect to incorporate digital programs into your regular programming in a post-pandemic landscape? If so, how?</strong> </p><p> <strong>Murti&#58;</strong> Yes, although what this looks like is very much evolving. Attendance at digital talks have far outpaced what we would have in-person. Seattle has terrible traffic so I believe we will have a hybrid of an in-person and virtual atmosphere for these events going forward. Some opera/musical content will most definitely continue virtually, but we haven’t figured out yet what that will look like in the future.</p><p> <strong>Goyanes&#58;</strong> While we are absolutely eager to bring live in-person theatre back into our programming, we also want to center the idea of abundance in our collaborations, relationships and in the theater we make. One of Woolly’s guiding principles is to reimagine collaboration and community, across industries, communities, disciplines and mediums. Digital programming fits squarely into that reimagining, and we are eager to build upon the experiments of this past year.</p><p>For one, producing in the digital realm greatly increases access to our work. For example, our theatre in downtown DC seats 270 people, and on the last night of our digital production of Amir Nizar Zuabi’s <em>This is Who I Am</em>, we saw upwards of 500 people tune in online, not only from all over the United States, but also from abroad. With a lower ticket price for our online productions, we have also been able to provide greater access by removing a financial barrier for more audiences.</p><p>We know that as vaccinations become widely available and restrictions from the pandemic get lifted, we will face new hurdles. Experts say that COVID-19 or similar viruses will be an ongoing part of our lives. A year ago, as new leaders were stewarding Woolly Mammoth into its next chapter, we were growing our operations and impact. Now, the same growth has been set back and we are not yet sure how long the ramifications of this time will last. Many of our artists are still unemployed and we fear that many will have left our field permanently.</p><p>All that said, we fully believe that Woolly Mammoth’s courage, creativity and sense of possibility will help us chart a path through these and other challenges we face. </p><p> <strong>What advice would you offer an organization who is just beginning their journey in adapting to the digital stage? </strong></p><p> <strong>Murti&#58;</strong> Try to think outside of your normal locations. After a year of this, audiences are going to expect you to do more than simply put your normal in-person event into a digital format.&#160; Virtual content should be designed with that in mind, as it takes just as long to figure out as an in-person event. Everyone has been surprised at how long it takes to edit a full-length opera. We’re doing it in about 2-3 weeks and it’s a real push to get it completed.</p><p> <strong>Abe&#58;</strong> Now that there is a lot of material out in the world online, check out what you’re interested in to get a sense of the breadth of different ways that artists are creating in all sorts of digital mediums. Are you interested in interactive shows? Live or filmed? Take note of what engages you, what makes for ease of experience, what feels satisfying. And then reach out to folks at those theatres. Ask questions with curiosity and gratitude – take the advice that serves you and chart your own path. Just like there is no one way to make theatre, there is no one way to make theatre online.</p><p> <em>For more information on Seattle Opera’s and Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s full range of digital programming, please visit their websites&#58; </em><a href="http&#58;//www.seattleopera.org/" target="_blank"><em>www.seattleopera.org</em></a><em> and ​</em><em><a href="http&#58;//www.woollymammoth.net/" target="_blank">www.woollymammoth.net</a></em></p>Wallace editorial team792021-05-11T04:00:00ZFrom obstacles to achievements and everything in between, two performing arts leaders share tales of creating art for the digital environment5/11/2021 2:23:04 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / Orchestrating Digital Arts Programming to Meet the Moment From obstacles to achievements and everything in between, two 606https://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 458https://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 411https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
Looking Toward an Alchemy for Arts Organizations Post-COVID26778GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​What is a “universal story”? </p><p>While many leaders of nonprofit arts organizations have, out of necessity, made financial stability a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, some have been driven to explore even more fundamental questions about the stories they choose to tell in their performances, and how to make sure the stories have meaning to their audiences. The goal, ultimately, is to broaden their audience base as well as strengthen their financial bottom line. </p><p>Michael Bateman, managing director of the A Noise Within theater in Pasadena, California, for instance, says he has focused on connecting with and finding relevance with communities beyond the organization’s more traditional audiences in Los Angeles, which had been predominantly white. The organization began by questioning the so-called classic plays they presented from the Western tradition, which touch on what are intended to be universal human themes—the artists ranging from Shakespeare and Dickens to Moliere. Did these plays really touch and move the kinds of diverse audiences the theater wanted to reach, particularly in communities of color? </p><p>To answer that question, the organization found opportunities to hold discussions with artists of color and asked them to define what a new “universal story” might be. They’d begun this effort before the pandemic, but Bateman says it gained new importance as the organization began to rethink its mission and increase its outreach to new communities as the pandemic and national reckoning with racial justice took hold. </p><p>“We know it’s hard for all to feel welcome here,” Bateman says of the traditional plays and other performances and events at the theater. “We want to tell stories where the audiences see themselves. We want to make people feel more welcome. We’re engaging with other artists in our community. What we’ve done is go back to our community and say, ‘What do you need from us now?’”</p><p>Bateman was one of three panelists in <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-2.aspx">the second conversation</a> in Wallace’s <em>Reimagining the Future of the Arts</em>&#160;series. The other participants were Zenetta S. Drew, executive director of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Kim Noltemy, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Association. Zannie Voss, Ph.D., director of SMU DataArts, one of the country’s leading centers for arts research, moderated the panel. </p><p>Voss is co-author of a recent study for the Wallace Foundation, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/the-alchemy-of-high-performing-arts-organizations.aspx"><em>The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations,</em></a> which analyzes the elements that produce financial stability by looking at two groups of high-performing arts organizations, one group that had consistently strong financial track records and a second group that had been in financial distress but recovered. The study summarizes its lengthy analysis this way, “The cornerstones of high performance appear to lie in the alchemy of high standards in the creation of work that is meaningful to the local community.”</p><p>Simply put&#58; high-quality art + community relevance = success. </p><p>In the panel discussion, and in later conversations with the panelists on their efforts to adapt to the current environment, all three emphasized that finding those meaningful community connections was an immediate priority, in the hopes that the results would eventually help them build new business models. Each admitted to a combination of excitement and anxiety.</p><p>Drew of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre describes this as a moment of validation for her organization and the company’s vision. She says it is a time of great challenges but also opportunities that we have waited years to implement. Since 1996, she says, the theater has tried to build a digital audience, previously with little success, due to historical barriers to online expansion. She has leapt at the greater interest in virtual performances now, with theaters closed, both to try and sustain revenue but also to connect with audiences and communities beyond Dallas. </p><p>A starting point, she says, is the role the arts are playing in helping people manage in the pandemic. “As a result of the pandemic, the arts are finding relevancy for our individual and collective work,” Drew says. “Everybody now, novice and professional, has become art makers and are putting things online. Art has been validated in its relevance. Artists are essential workers to our nation’s social, emotional resilience and recovery. It is enriching us. It changes lives. It heals.”</p><p>The theatre has been charging for popular digital events, a model that Drew says she intends to aggressively pursue. She stresses that it’s not just an alternative way to add earned revenue, but a core element in the mission of an arts organization that, she says, has long confronted an array of deep challenges. DBDT has never had the kind of broad and deep donor base that some other arts nonprofits have, making for a precarious and lean structure well before the pandemic. Also, its focus on Black artists and Black audiences has meant the organization encountered resistance from some white members of the community and sponsors, she says. Some had urged the organization in the past to remove the designation as a self-declared “Black” theater from the name, which it has to this day refused, since that is the group’s identity and identifies a core community it serves.</p><p>“I’ve always been working with the pandemic of racism,” Drew says. “That’s been true for us from the beginning. COVID is just another issue on the list of issues we have to deal with, and that’s why we’re ready, we’re resilient, we have ideas. I have the same panorama of problems as everyone else, but we are focusing on the opportunities.”</p><p>Audiences have embraced DBDT’s online events and performances, which are earning revenues and expanding not just in Texas but in surrounding states and even overseas. “I have someone from Australia on every virtual event we do,” she says.</p><p>“I’m trying to lead the industry in thinking outside the box,” Drew says. “We’re not just doing things until we can get people in seats again. We can’t go backwards. We’re building a new paradigm for our existence. This was great news for DBDT.” (To read more about DBDT's digital efforts and vision for the future, read <a href="/news-and-media/blog/pages/can-pandemic-be-catalyst-for-new-global-arts-ecology.aspx">Drew's recent essay​</a> for The Wallace Blog.)<br></p><p>On of Drew’s fans is Kim Noltemy of the Dallas Symphony (the two sit on each other’s boards). She expresses admiration for how successfully the Dallas Black Dance Theatre has utilized virtual performances to earn more revenues and to create a sense of excitement around its events. It is a model, she says, that she is eager to replicate to some degree at the symphony.</p><p>“I think this is going to be a great turning point for the orchestra industry,” she says. “People are becoming accustomed to listening to music online and paying for it. It was such an effort before. People only wanted live music. But we’re changing the paradigm.”</p><p>Offering virtual concerts, about 20 percent of which are free, is a means of developing a more complete digital musical experience. Additionally, they have expanded the symphony’s free outdoor music events, mostly chamber groups, which allow it to reach into new neighborhoods and build relationships with more diverse audiences, particularly in communities of color. In those outdoor events, they have been offering a combination of classical music, pieces such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, popular contemporary music, such as music by the film composer John Williams, and jazzy ragtime pieces for a brass chamber group. In previous years, she says, the symphony did from 15 to 20 of those events a year. Performances have increased sharply to about 90 since the pandemic hit, and Noltemy expects they will offer 40 more before the year’s end, hoping that some of those audience members will turn into subscribers.</p><p>“This transformation is permanent, no matter what happens with the pandemic,” she says. “Now, our focus is creating high quality content for the online events and getting better at those productions. That takes experience.”</p><p>Additionally, Noltemy says they will be extending the kind of attention that the symphony has traditionally provided to donors, board members and subscribers to a broader array of audience members and prospective audience members. Once the symphony is offering indoor concerts on a regular basis again, this will include invitations to pre-concert discussions of the programs to post-concert parties attended by some orchestra members. For now, there will be more targeted marketing materials and digital outreach. “That has to be a high priority, like in business,” she says. “We need to use those tools much more than we ever have.”</p><p>Such ramped-up communications and personal outreach can help organizations interact more deeply with the diverse communities they seek to engage with. Some are even creating programs designed to prompt discussion and feedback. Bateman at A Noise Within points to new free online programs&#58; “Noise Now,” started last year, and “Fridays@Five,” which began during the shutdown. Both involve a series of discussions with writers, directors and artists of color talking about their backgrounds and what special insights they may bring to their work in the theater, among other things. </p><p>“We have to dig up that part of our cornerstone and rebuild our foundation,” Bateman says, referring to the organization’s mission and its growing knowledge of what kind of stories might be relevant and meaningful to the different communities around Pasadena. In fact, A Noise Within has just written a new strategic plan with a goal of one day creating a new financial model that includes, among other things, more revenue from online plays and events—something that has come directly from these conversation about community and sustainability. </p> ​<br>James Sterngold 1122020-12-10T05:00:00ZExpert panel says high quality art, community connection plus a strong online presence can help fuel future success in the arts12/10/2020 2:00:24 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / Looking Toward an Alchemy for Arts Organizations Post-COVID Expert panel says high quality art, community connection plus a 471https://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 902https://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 404https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
Engaging Audiences in the Age of Social Distancing24067GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​As social distancing measures are enacted across the globe to slow the spread of COVID-19, arts organizations are taking creative approaches to engage their audiences through nontraditional means. In recent weeks, museums, galleries and performing arts organizations have significantly expanded their online offerings through virtual tours of their collections, broadcasts of performances and interactive educational programs, making their work more accessible to a greater public. The Metropolitan Opera, for instance, announced that it would stream encore performances of its most famous productions, free to the general public. Similarly, the National Theatre in London is releasing new performances from their archives every Thursday, made available for free and “on demand” to audiences for a full week. While the crisis has brought tremendous uncertainty, it has also created opportunities to reach new audiences at a time when the sanctuary and connection offered by the arts is needed most. </p><p>“The traditional live arts experience has been predicated on physically bringing people together, and it relies so heavily on the chemistry between performer and audience, and the immediacy of that exchange,” noted Corinna Schulenburg, director of communications at Theater Communications Group “As we all adapt to new ways of working, we are seeing a real flourishing of experimentation that will likely have a long-lasting impact on how we present and create art.” </p><p>Many of the performing arts organizations in The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS) initiative have also implemented similar efforts to meet audiences where they are. From free broadcasts to classes and educational workshops, these offerings help audiences in their community—and around the world—continue to feel connected. A sample of digital events and activities are outlined below, with more content added regularly.</p><ul><li> <strong>Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has </strong>started the <a href="https&#58;//www.alvinailey.org/ailey-all-access" target="_blank">Ailey All Access</a>,&#160;an online streaming series allowing audiences to connect with performances, including full length works from the repertory, Ailey Extension dance classes, and original short films created by the Ailey dancers.<br><strong><br></strong></li><li> <strong>Baltimore Symphony Orchestra</strong> has expanded their offerings on <a href="https&#58;//www.bsomusic.org/offstage" target="_blank">BSO Offstage</a>, an online platform where audiences can find performance videos, BSO podcasts, and other content and resources. <br> <strong> <br></strong></li><li> <strong>La Jolla Playhouse</strong>’s online <a href="https&#58;//lajollaplayhouse.org/the-staging-area/" target="_blank">Staging&#160;Area</a>&#160;is dedicated to virtual content, which features conversations with La Jolla artists and weekly posts from Playhouse artists and staff who share their favorite stories and memories. <br> <br> <strong></strong></li><li> <b>Opera Philadelphia </b>brings you opera on the couch through its first-ever <a href="https&#58;//www.operaphila.org/festival/digital-festival/lineup/?promo=145780" target="_blank">Digital Festival​</a>, with free streams of five past productions, including four world premier​es​. &#160; &#160;<br> <br> <strong> </strong></li><li> <strong>Pacific Northwest Ballet</strong> has posted at-home workouts for dancers and footage of rehearsals shot before their lockdown on their <a href="https&#58;//twitter.com/PNBallet" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https&#58;//www.instagram.com/pacificnorthwestballet/?hl=en" target="_blank">Instagram</a>, while also uploading articles to their <a href="https&#58;//blogpnborg.wordpress.com/" target="_blank">blog</a>. <br> <br> <strong></strong></li><li> <strong>Seattle Opera </strong>has created a special section on their website, <a href="https&#58;//www.seattleopera.org/inside-look/opera-at-home/" target="_blank">Opera at Home</a>,&#160;which features new playlists, talks, podcasts and other online content for their audiences. <br> <br> <strong></strong></li><li> <strong>Seattle Symphony</strong>’s musicians will share free broadcasts with the public, streamed via the Symphony’s <a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/seattlesymphony" target="_blank">YouTube</a>&#160;channel and&#160;<a href="https&#58;//www.facebook.com/seattlesymphony" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.<br><br><strong> </strong></li><li> <strong>Steppenwolf Theatre Company </strong>is leading weekly free and public <a href="https&#58;//www.steppenwolf.org/education/" target="_blank">virtual workshops</a> for early career professional, teens&#160;and educators. They also released their interview-style podcast <a href="https&#58;//www.steppenwolf.org/tickets--events/half-hour-theatre-podcast/" target="_blank">Half Hour</a> this month. <br>​​<br><strong></strong></li><li> <strong>Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company </strong>has shifted their <a href="https&#58;//www.woollymammoth.net/events/springbenefit" target="_blank">Progressive Party</a> online—free and open to the public—allowing viewers to view performances, participate in an auction&#160;and experience a sneak-peak into Woolly’s 41st Season.<strong><u> </u></strong></li></ul> Wallace editorial team792020-04-16T04:00:00ZYour 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.6/14/2021 3:27:46 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / Engaging Audiences in the Age of Social Distancing Arts organizations who participated in Wallace’s Building Audiences for 1981https://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 1441https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx
For Steppenwolf Theatre the Connection’s the Thing24072GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​A little more than 10 years ago, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company shifted its relationship with its patrons by offering them face-to-face conversation with the company’s performers and artistic staff. The new approach came about after Steppenwolf used an Excellence Award from The Wallace Foundation to develop a series of online and in-person programs that supported a vision of the company as “a public square”—a forum where audience members could participate in discussions with artists and one another about the meaning of a work they experienced.&#160;</p><p>The goal for Steppenwolf, which produces plays for more than 200,000 audience members every year, was to promote ongoing dialogue that would strengthen audience members’ connection to the company—and even encourage them to attend performances more often. This three-year effort (from 2007 to 2009) helped move the company towards its objective as described in <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/wallace-studies-in-building-arts-audiences-building-deeper-relationships.aspx">a 2011 case study</a>. </p><p>We recently revisited Steppenwolf to see where the programs stand today and found the company not only continuing to engage audiences through lively discussions but also expanding opportunities for more of them. </p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">2007–2009&#58; The Public Square Launches, and Expands</h2><p> Steppenwolf began creating its public square through three engagement tactics&#58; </p><ul><li>Post-show discussions after every performance during which members of the artistic staff posed questions to the audience (not the other way around) and everyone shared reactions as a group. Over the first three years, 52,000 audience members, or approximately 14 percent of the audience, stayed to take part in these conversations.<br><br></li><li>A free-event series called “Explore” that introduced visitors to settings, playwright histories and themes related to Steppenwolf plays. Held in a social environment featuring immersive live entertainment, food and beverages, these events were separate from play performances—in Steppenwolf’s smaller theaters and rehearsal spaces—and each hosted between 50 and 230 attendees.<br><br></li><li>An extensive collection of printed and online content in which ensemble members and artistic staff shared conversations they were having with one another about work as it was being produced. Video and transcripts of those conversations included dialogue about Steppenwolf artists’ own questions regarding meaning and artistic intent—questions that sometimes remained unresolved. Over the three-year grant period, the videos and podcasts were accessed more than 750,000 and 175,000 times, respectively.</li></ul><p> ​While the public square forums attracted large numbers of audience members, they may have&#160;also encouraged repeat attendance during the grant period. In fact, the number of nonsubscribers who purchased tickets to more than one performance per season grew by more than 61 percent from&#160;September 1, 2007, to&#160;August 31, 2009. Subscription rates, which were already above industry trends, rose as well. </p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Continuing the Public Square </h2><p> Since that time, the theater has found many programs worth extending. Post-show discussions still follow every performance, and between 10 and 25 percent of audience members (14 percent on average) stay to take part. A 2016 survey revealed that more than 80 percent of participants say the conversations help them better appreciate the work they have seen, and what they enjoy most is the opportunity to reflect on the play immediately after seeing it. </p><p>The company also still produces a wide range of videos, including ensemble and staff reflections on artistic intent and meaning. Increasingly in recent years, the staff has also tapped audience members’ post-performance reactions to a work. One tack is to approach attendees in the lobby after the show and ask them to share their observations on video. Those clips are then edited and posted on the company website or included in production-related e-mails. The reactions are not of the “I love it, go see it” variety used strictly for promotion; instead, they are more personal reflections about specific elements that an audience member finds moving.</p><p>In a similar vein, Steppenwolf has also begun asking attendees to share personal experiences at the theater through social media, which was in its infancy when the original case study was published in 2011. For example, some audience members at a recent performance of <em>A Doll’s House, Part 2 </em>had seats at the back of the stage and they were prompted to post selfies once they took their places. That strategy of encouraging user-generated content may be one reason Steppenwolf has one of the most popular Instagram accounts among not-for-profit theater companies, with nearly 16,000 followers. &#160;​<br>​​<img src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/For-Steppenwolf-Theatre-the-Connection’s-the-Thing/IG3.png" alt="IG3.png" class="wf-Image-Left" style="margin&#58;5px;" /><br></p> <p class="wf-Element-ImageCaption">To promote interaction among its audiences, Steppenwolf Theatre encourages visitors to post images on social media, such as this post on Instagram.​ </p>​ <p>As for the Explore events, former Marketing Director John Zinn notes that a new performance series and a recently added in-house café (both described below) provide opportunities to continue dialogue in a more flexible and ongoing way. As a result, the company has​ discontinued the Explore programming. </p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Creating More Conversations and Opportunities to Have Them </h2><p> Even as its leadership has changed, Steppenwolf's commitment to discourse remains a defining feature of how it engages audiences. In 2015, ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro took over as artistic director from David Schmitz, who moved into the role of executive director. Under both, the company expanded audience opportunities to participate in conversations at Steppenwolf that suit the lifestyles and circumstances of different groups.</p><p>&#160;The recognition that not everyone wants to have a conversation inside the theater itself was one motivating factor behind the 2016 opening of the Front Bar. A hybrid bar and coffee shop connected to the Steppenwolf lobby, it was designed as a gathering place post-performance or throughout the day, with the hope it would be a space where patrons could mingle with one another and with the artists. Marketing Director Kara Henry notes that within three years the cafe has exceeded all expectations, becoming a place where ensemble members and visiting artists mingle with patrons after a performance and during rehearsals. At other times it serves as an impromptu workspace for theater artists from communities and companies across the city, many of them performing in or drawn to programming in Steppenwolf’s more intimate<u> </u>black-box theater.</p><p>Encouraged by the success of the Front Bar, the company plans to create other kinds of gathering spaces as it expands its campus into a new building now under construction. In that same spirit of reducing distance between audience and artists, Steppenwolf is designing the theater within the new space to be more intimate by bringing patrons closer to the stage.</p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Telling More Stories </h2><p> The artistic staff at Steppenwolf believes its mission, first and foremost, is to tell narratives that are relevant to Chicago. It is now expanding what that duty means as well. Increasingly, the company is looking beyond audiences who are already coming to the theater and is focusing on new ones, what Henry calls “a&#160;commitment to creating more stories for more of Chicago.” She adds, “Our invitation to theater patrons must be wide, with programming that reflects Chicago’s diversity. As we see the composition of Chicago change, we have an obligation to have our work reflect that.” </p><p>With that in mind, the company has featured a more diverse array of voices on the main stage. In 2016, it launched LookOut, amulti-genre performance series in its black-box theater, which provides an intimate cabaret-like setting. LookOu<em>t</em> programming draws from a wide range of Chicago-based artists, and its smaller scale allows for a greater diversity of shows to be presented within any one season. On select occasions the company has featured work that complements main-stage productions in order to build on conversations happening there. To date, LookOu<em>t</em> has featured 1,190 visiting artists, who have presented 146 shows in 422 performances to an audience of 29,005. That audience skews younger than the traditional Steppenwolf visitor&#58; 46 percent are Millennials, according to the theater's ticketing database,&#160;and another 20 percent are Gen X. </p><p>Ultimately the company hopes that giving audience members multiple means to connect with its work and artists will create stronger, more personal bonds and include broader segments of Chicagoans. Henry sees the engagement strategy as supporting Artistic Director Shapiro’s intent to “make connections that transcend ideas onstage, with experiences that seek to enhance the lives of every person who walks through our doors.”</p>​<br>Bob Harlow822019-06-11T04:00:00ZIn the past decade, the Chicago theater company has grown its audiences by cultivating a “public square” and connecting with patrons.6/11/2019 2:00:44 PMThe Wallace Foundation / News and Media / Wallace Blog / For Steppenwolf Theatre the Connection’s the Thing In the past decade, the Chicago theater company has grown its audiences 1212https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx

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