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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 322https://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 121https://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 242https://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">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">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/">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">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">Twitter</a> and <a href="https&#58;//bit.ly/InstaPNB">Instagram</a>, while also uploading articles to their <a href="https&#58;//blogpnborg.wordpress.com/">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/">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 <a href="https&#58;//seattlesymphony.org/live">free broadcasts</a> with the public, streamed via the Symphony’s <a href="https&#58;//www.youtube.com/seattlesymphony">YouTube</a>&#160;channel and&#160;<a href="https&#58;//www.facebook.com/seattlesymphony">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/">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/">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">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.8/27/2020 3:13:24 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 1517https://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 1314https://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 1052https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Forms/AllItems.aspxhtmlFalseaspx

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