'Radical hospitality': Minneapolis theater offers free admission to all its shows

The Minneapolis StarTribune, 5/23/11

In what may be a first for the nation, Minneapolis-based Mixed Blood Theatre is offering free admission to all shows in its next three seasons.  The program, announced Monday, is called "Radical Hospitality." While eliminating an important barrier to admission, it will not mean any compromise on quality, said Jack Reuler, founder of the 35-year-old company.  "We will still have topnotch talent in acting and directing and writing," he said. "This is a way to be true to our egalitarian mission, which is to be totally inclusive."  The company, which also does tours and specialized, off-site shows, is known for drawing diverse audiences to its 250-seat theater.  "We have access programs for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, for Latinos, for young people," said Reuler. "We thought, why not combine them and just make them into something grand?"  Revenue from ticket sales has been an important but declining part of the $1.4 million budget as the playhouse has ramped up fundraising efforts. "Radical Hospitality" will be funded in part by foundations, individuals and the Legacy Amendment, said Reuler.  Mixed Blood's free-entry policy is "a bold experiment that is going to provide leadership for the entire field," said Teresa Eyring, head of the Theatre Communications Group.  "Theaters...have offered tickets for suggested donations. Some theaters have said you can get in by paying your age in dollars plus the roll of a dice. But I don't know of anything like what Mixed Blood is planning. And it's very exciting." 


Trendwatching: Free performances of hit Broadway shows for die-hard fans

Theater Advisor blog, 5/9/11

The Book of Mormon will present a free fan performance on Friday, July 1.  Theatergoers will recall that [the Broadway revival of Chicago also] recently held a free fan performance. They had fans on Facebook get 10 friends to 'like' their fan page.  Those who accomplished the goal were able to secure a pair of free tickets to a performance on January 30, 2011.  It generated a great deal of press coverage and social media posts.  Interestingly, a large number of people saw the show for the first time on Broadway that day.  With Chicago playing on Broadway for over 10 years you would think that the "Fans" would be die-hards who had been to see it more than once, and with the star casting always changing there are many reasons to go back to see the show again and again. They were familiar with the music and the film but had yet to take in the stage musical.  What kept them away, was it price?  With The Book of Mormon being a new show on Broadway and in such high demand, it is remarkable that they are deciding to do this performance at all.  However, their social marketing campaign has been creating interesting campaigns to grab and harness the legion of Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez fans that already exist and turn them into BOM fans. Their early Facebook strategy created tremendous buzz through a game where fans earned points for  getting their friends to 'like' the BOM fan page as well as doing other tasks such as tweeting, changing their profile pic to the BOM logo and visiting the BOM website.  The promotion ended with 50 winners of tickets to the final dress rehearsal. 


Commentary: What price will people pay when they get to decide the price?

Andrew Taylor, Artsjournal blog The Artful Manager, 5/18/11

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story on Panera Bread's initiative to create 'pay what you can' versions of their cafés that earn money and give back at the same time. The three 'Panera Cares' locations are a tiny fraction of the chain's 1500 outlets, but they're an intriguing experiment in community-focused pricing.  When requesting their food, customers are told a 'suggested price' for the order. Then they decide how much to pay. As it turns out, a majority of customers pay the suggested price. And the distribution of payment is rather compelling. According to the article:

Most patrons...drop the entire retail cost, or more, into the voluntary donation box, in essence subsidizing a meal for somewhat who can't pay the full amount. Panera says about 60 percent leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more; and 20 percent leave less. The largest single payment so far? One person paid $500 for a meal.

Which goes to show that price is only partly associated with direct perceived value to the consumer. Arts organizations and other community oriented enterprises certainly bank on that truth to make their budgets work. But we tend to think of this payment in excess of price as a contribution, and treat it as a separate transaction (managed often by a separate department than marketing and sales).  The Panera experiment suggests there's lots of room for discovery in deciding how we price our services, and how much we let our audiences determine the price.


Chicago museums look to charge tourists on state-mandated free admission days

Chicago News Cooperative, 5/6/11

Very quietly, a consortium of museums has persuaded the Illinois legislature to allow them to charge entry fees to out-of-staters on the 52 free museum days each year mandated by the General Assembly.  Gary Johnson, president of the Chicago History Museum, led the charge as head of Museums in the Parks.  Currently, Chicago's museums must have 52 days when admission is free even to out-of-staters. They've argued for years that they labor under a de facto unfunded state mandate and, with budgets tight, need help.  40 million visitors arrive in Chicago each year from at least 50 miles away, according to the city, and generate tax revenue of $587 million a year. About 17% of them say visiting museums and art exhibitions is a priority. The museums figure that half of their attendees don't pay, and that includes the indisputable freebies, notably students.   The museums' figures are short of exact, with some institutions more meticulous than others about getting visitors' ZIP codes on free days. But he guesses 25-50% of visitors on the free days are from outside Illinois. "Our guesstimate is that the revenue to be gained is in the millions of dollars," Mr. Johnson said.  Nationally, Chicago appears to offer more freebies than any big city, with the exception of Washington, where so many museums are subsidized by all of us. "We're off the charts," another Chicago museum leader told me.


1,300+ U.S. museums to offer free summer admission to military families

Associated Press, 5/23/11

More than 1,300 museums across the country are offering free admission to active duty military personnel and their families all summer in a program with the National Endowment for the Arts.  The expanded Blue Star Museums program [was] announced Monday with military families in San Diego where 17 museums are participating. The offer runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  The program began last year with more than 600 museums and has added more than 500 new destinations for 2011.  The list includes a wide range of museums, including the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the Art Institute of Chicago, New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Va.

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