Commentary: What's keeping audiences away from the arts?

Sara R. Leonard, Americans for the Arts blog, 10/5/12

As leaders and marketers in arts organizations, we often seem to operate on the assumption that people should and do want to attend the arts, and it is the practical matters of time, money, location, and competing leisure-time options with which we must wage war to bring those people into our venues. But is it true?  Well, research shows that practical barriers are indeed an issue. But the flip side of the research tells us practical barriers really only come into play once people decide they are interested in participating. How are we supposed to diversify our audiences and bring new people into the arts?  For that, we have to address the other barriers, the perceptual and the psychological.

1. Find out who your audience is. Organizations need to figure out who their current and prospective audience members are. Our organizations will be most successful if we build upon interests and values we share with our audiences. To do that, we need to know what our communities value generally, what they value about the arts, and what interests them.

2. Have an organizational identity. We are drawn into relationships with people because of who they are. If I am constantly changing myself to try to be what I think you want me to be (remember high school?), or am unable to tell you what I think, like, or care about, I'm not giving you much to relate to. [An arts] organization needs to have an identity: values, interests, a personality. And that identity should be present in the organization's programming and marketing.

3. It's okay to not be all things to all people. If we create strong organizational identities we run the risk that some folks will distinctly not connect with that identity. If our organizations are placed correctly, though, we should gain more than we lose.

We do need to break down practical barriers to participation, but we also need to remember to address the perceptual and psychological barriers if we truly want to develop audiences that will help carry our organizations forward.


ENO launches "Undress for Opera" program to lure more young people

Imogen Tilden, The Guardian, 10/3/12

The English National Opera [is] making an effort to be a little more relaxed at the launch of an initiative to attract younger audiences. "Come in shorts, armour, jeans, pumps, anything!" said artistic director John Berry. The scheme, Undress for the Opera, was inspired by the success of Damon Albarn's Doctor Dee in the summer where 60% of the ticket buyers were new to ENO. 100 25 tickets will be available for performances of four operas in the coming season. The tickets will be for the best seats, and will include a pre-performance introduction to the evening's opera, a downloadable synopsis and, post-performance, the opportunity to meet the cast and creative teams. ENO's chief executive Loretta Tomasi also promised club-style bars, specially themed cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere. "Lots of people are put off by the way opera is presented - they think it is too stuffy, too posh, too expensive. We want to change that perception," said Berry. 30% of ENO's current audience is under 44, his aim is to increase that figure to at least 40%. Rufus Norris, who directed Doctor Dee and whose revival of Don Giovanni is the first production of the new scheme said: "Opera has negative connatations to people who don't go. It is scary. It's the ultimate art form. But it can transport you and it affects you through the gut. It's wonderful for someone like me who tends to think too much." Albarn said: "Personally I like the ritual of dressing up, but I think people need to know that you don't have to."


Commentary: Museum is right to end monthly parties; let's see who comes now.

Judith H. Dobrzynski, blog Real Clear Arts, 10/7/12

"No one wants to go now! Without it, we really don't have a reason to go to the museum," said Stephanie Morgan, a 30-year-old research epidemiologist and resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, to a reporter the other day. She was talking about the dance party that has been part of the Brooklyn Museum's Target First Saturdays for years -- the evenings that bulk up the museum's somewhat erratic attendance. But a week or so ago, the Brooklyn Museum "pulled the plug" on the dancing in the galleries, citing overcrowding in the third floor galleries. No specific damage was disclosed in the blog post that carried the announcement. In its place, "You'll see new things like artist-led participatory activities, site-specific performances, and intimate issue-driven discussions." The museum said it was being proactive, rather than "waiting for a problem to happen." Brooklyn has always maintained that there are plenty of art activities on First Saturdays -- and there are -- but the question has always really been why people come. Morgan she and her friends have gone every month "for years" and now they won't? I say good riddance -- they can dance elsewhere; they can't see Brooklyn's art collections and exhibitions elsewhere. Brooklyn says it'll bring the dance parties back, but I actually hope it doesn't - at least not for some time. Let things shake out. Let's see who comes now and in what numbers.


Related: I may not go Saturday nights anymore, but I'll still go to museum

Stephanie Morgan on her personal blog, Black Girl Pain, 10/6/12

Recently I was interviewed for two newspapers about the end of the dance party era. One quote in particular -- "Without (the dance party), I don't need to go every month..." -- has caused some backlash. I want to clarify [I] meant there was no reason for me to go to First Saturdays every month. I am not so much pressed to see the "featured exhibit" that will be there all month or even longer. I don't enjoy the exhibits on First Saturdays because it's way too crowded. I'd rather pay $10 and enjoy the quietness while seeing the same exhibits than have to deal with the overcrowding and small children running amok on Saturday night. I do understand why the BK Museum decided to put the dance party on "hiatus." It has become the driving force for many (some say as much as 20K people) to attend. It's sad but I do understand. This won't stop me from attending the museum. I actually have tickets for a documentary screening later this month, but as for First Saturdays? It's up in the air. Previously it was a no-brainer. We did it every month since I moved here in Oct 2010. Now I will only go if there is something I can ONLY see on Saturday (book club, Q&A) and that I can get tickets to attend. I just want my ENTIRE position on this to be available to those who think that we don't like art.


Commentary: Grant-making for a broader definition of arts engagement

Minnesota Philanthropy Partners' Sharon DeMark, Philanthropy News Digest, 10/2/12

In recognition of significant changes in the way Americans experience art, many institutions -- both established and new -- are aggressively rethinking their approach and seeking ways to invite audiences to create, curate, and respond to art. Given the evolving definition of arts and arts engagement, it's interesting to note that the lion's share of arts funding goes to larger, more established institutions across the country. Only 2% of [U.S.] arts organizations have budgets of more than $5 million, yet in 2009 these organizations received 55% of all contributions, gifts, and grants. While large institutions are helping to redefine the art experience, there is ample opportunity for arts funders to identify and support smaller and less-established organizations. In California, the Irvine Foundation has shifted its approach to supporting arts engagement for all residents. In Minnesota, the McKnight Foundation changed its focus from providing institutional support to funding individual artists. And with the NEA leading the way with its Art Works and Our Town programs, some grantmakers are supporting a shift toward the role of the arts in community vitality and economic development. At the Saint Paul Foundation, we have broadened our definition of art and seek to support organizations that provide opportunities for all people to participate in the arts in meaningful ways. We look forward to seeing how the evolving definition and experience of art will play out. And as that definition continues to expand and change, the Saint Paul Foundation, along with many other funders, will continue to seek the most effective ways to support everyone's opportunity to be creative and innovative, to make meaning, and to connect with others through the arts. 

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