Eileen Cunniffe

Eileen Cunniffe

In the waning days of 2013, an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer cited examples of performing arts organizations experimenting with curtain times, holding some weeknight performances as early as 6:30 pm instead of the long-accepted standard of 8:00 pm. The reasons given included appealing to younger audiences, who might want to go somewhere else after the show; appealing to older audiences, who might appreciate getting home earlier; and appealing to everyone in between, who might find it easier to hire a babysitter or just to show up for work the next day. One of the early trends from this experimentation is that some midweek performances with earlier curtain times are pulling even with or outpacing once-hot Friday evening ticket sales.

In other words, Friday is the new Tuesday—or maybe Tuesday is the new Friday? Either way, this is as good a place as any to begin the conversation about what constitutes the “new normal” for the nonprofit arts and culture sector and how arts organizations continue to respond to the changing environment in terms of audience behaviors and, in the wake of the Great Recession, evolving funder behaviors, too.

Looking back at 2013, it was in many ways a year of contradictory trends in the arts sector: two steps forward, one step back, or perhaps the other way around. Growth, contraction, innovation, struggle, resurrection, collapse. Read the rest of this entry »

What Your Audience is Actually Looking For

Posted by Sara R. Leonard On October - 9 - 2013
Sara R. Leonard

Sara R. Leonard

A few weeks ago “Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling” was making the social media rounds. The album was inviting and eminently repost-able, but days after reading it, one of the points was still nagging at me. “Number two: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.” A similar mantra could be useful to those of us marketing the arts.

There’s just one thing: it’s not quite right.

The problem is that it’s actually rare for those of us who work in the performing arts to resemble our typical audience members. And it’s even less likely that our interests as audience members will align with the interests of those who aren’t currently attending events at our organizations. Last year I wrote about the perceptual and psychological barriers that keep audiences away. Just as those of us who work in the arts tend not to think enough about those barriers to participation, it often doesn’t occur to us that prospective audiences might attend a performance for reasons quite different from ours.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Are “The Arts” Anyway?

Posted by Howard Sherman On February - 22 - 2013
Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman

Art. The arts. Fine arts. Performing arts. Visual arts. The lively arts. Arts & entertainment. Arts & culture. Culture. High culture. Pop culture.

The preceding phrases are all, on a very macro basis, variations on a theme. However, were you in a research study, and I showed you each of them, one at a time, I daresay they would provoke very distinct associations, very clear delineations of what each encompasses in your mind. Those responses would also likely change depending upon the order in which I showed these to you.

I could also take any two and combine them in a Venn diagram and the overlapping segment would be quite clear. But incorporate a third or fourth and you might find one of these categories the odd man out.

Why do I bring this up?

Because as the “arts community” fights its valiant, essential, and never-ending battle to convince the public at large of the value of “the arts,” I cannot help but wonder whether those on the receiving end of such messaging each hear very different things when these words are presented to them.

I’m prompted to these thoughts by a variety of “real world” examples and experiences, some quite personal. I’m hoping that perhaps someone will want to test my assumptions.

Visit the websites of a few newspapers. The New York Times “Arts” section is a big tent, where theatre, dance, and opera fit in alongside movies, TV, books, and pop music; only on Fridays in the New York edition do they distinguish between performing arts and fine arts, by dividing them into two printed sections.  Read the rest of this entry »

Audience Development, Venn Diagram Edition

Posted by Nina Simon On October - 4 - 2012

Nina Simon

A lot of conversations I have about audience development with organizational leaders go something like this:

“We want to find ways to make our institution more participatory and lively.”
“Great!”
“We want to cultivate a more diverse audience, especially younger people, and we want to do it authentically.”
“Fabulous!”
“But our traditional audience doesn’t come for that, and we have to find a way to do this without making them uncomfortable.”
“Hm.”

Audience development is not an exercise in concentric circles. You can’t just start with who you already have in the middle and build infinitely outward. In most cases, growth means shifting, and shifting means that some people leave as others come.

This is incredibly scary. It requires trading a certain history for an uncertain future—a nerve-wracking prospect no matter the situation. It’s particularly scary if your institution relies primarily on private donors, members, and gate sales to cover operating costs. When funding is tied to a specific subset of your audience, you get protective of them, even if they are not the people most likely to ensure viability and sustainability in the future.

When I took on the director role at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, we were in a dangerous situation. We had a small cohort of members and donors who loved and supported us. Outside of that, our bench was very thin—no brand recognition, no up-and-coming audience, no big funders with an eye on the future of the organization.

Now, a year later, we’ve more than doubled our attendance, increased membership by 30%, attracted national foundation funders, and gotten great ink locally. Our audience has gotten younger and they come more frequently. Read the rest of this entry »

5 Suggestions on How to Build a Loyal and Happy Audience

Posted by Shoshana Fanizza On October - 4 - 2012

Shoshana Fanizza

Every time I send out an email or post to my blog, I end with my signature, “Cheers to happy and loyal audiences” and a quote by James Stewart, “Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”

I am a firm believer that building a happy and loyal audience is exactly where our focus needs to be, and treating your audience as a partner is one of the many management shifts we can make in order to create a happy and loyal audience.

So, you want an audience that supports you, and you want them to be loyal to keep them coming back for more. What are some actions you can take to make this happen?  Here are my top 5 suggestions to get you started:

1. Begin with knowing yourself.

If you don’t know who you are and what your art is all about, how will you be able to attract the right audience for you and your art?

This step means defining who you are down to the letter so you can brand properly and set up your marketing messages to speak clearly about who you are, what your art is, and provide the exact image that matches you and your art.

This is a crucial step. I have seen many artists and arts organizations that are not well defined, and their brand is mainly a copycat of their industry at large. What makes you unique is a better objective and will attract the best audiences for you.

2.  Get to know your audience.

When I start a session to discover information about a client’s audience, I mainly ask both demographic and psychographic questions. I am finding that most of us know the demographics. However, when I ask what the main hobbies their audience enjoys or what other art forms they go to or if they have any issues with your venue, I usually get the answer “I don’t know.” Read the rest of this entry »

Planning Your Marketing Mix

Posted by Jennifer Hubbartt On October - 3 - 2012

Jennifer Hubbartt

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I shared a hobby with other Generation X-ers: I made my own mix tapes. Simply pop a cassette in the dual tape deck, and tape songs heard off the radio, from compact disc, or even vinyl.

Younger generations would find this procedure outdated. Dead, even. Yet the art of the mix tape isn’t dead, entirely. It is the technology that’s changed.

Now instead of tapes we use playlists generated from sources like iTunes that are synced with iPods or other such devices. Music lovers today simply need to grasp the new tools at hand to make your own mix tape.

The same can be said about the Marketing Mix. I’ve been in the arts marketing field for over a decade, and in recent years I’ve heard variations on a theme. Advertising is dead. Direct mail is dead. Subscriptions are dead. Even Marketing itself is dead.

However, it is also the case that technology has evolved, giving us marketers even more ways with which to communicate the products we have to offer our audiences, test new tactics, and analyze the results. One individual marketing tactic may not make or break your ticket sales as they once had; it is all about your Mix.

The trick is to figure out the tools best suited for your audience, find the right beat, and strike the appropriate balance for your organization’s Marketing Mix, taking advantage of the new tools at hand.

Some points to consider the balance of your Marketing Mix, which has helped my many campaigns move and groove into ticket sales and audience development:

Who is my audience? Who else could we/should we be serving? This can help you make decisions for your price, packaging, and messaging throughout your advertising and social media engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

A Moving Picture is Worth a Million Words

Posted by Katherine Mooring On October - 3 - 2012

Katherine Mooring

“Charlotte in 2012″ is becoming quite a theme this year, as we prepare to welcome our fabulous arts marketing and development peers from across the country to the National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference in November, just months after serving as the host for the recent Democratic National Convention (DNC).

Our arts community played a critical role in the DNC from day one—not only as a major player in the process that led to Charlotte’s selection as the convention site, but also as primary partners for major events like CarolinaFest 2012, delegate parties, and even The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which broadcast from the stage of our local children’s theatre.

Gearing up for this national spotlight gave our local arts marketing minds a chance to show off the myriad ways we impact and enliven our community like never before. Video emerged as the primary medium for these messages, as Charlotte artists and arts organizations told their stories to new, national audiences in creative and compelling ways. Here’s one example:

From the more formal, host-committee directed promotional pieces, to a visionary, community-side initiative known as the Charlotte Video Project. Read the rest of this entry »

Seal the Deal, Break the Barrier, Stop the Churn!

Posted by Alison French On October - 1 - 2012

As the 2012 National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP) Conference: Getting Down to Business quickly approaches, we are taking some cues from creative business leaders, entrepreneurs and change agents. And that is exactly how I would describe our keynote speakers – Rohit Bhargava, Eric Ryan, Nina Simon, and the musical collective cdza:

What better way to kick off a meeting about audience engagement, communications, and revenue generation than with an online discussion with you and 25 top marketing practitioners and consultants in the field?

Join us here on ARTSblog for a dialogue on the broad landscape of arts marketing, technology, and audience development. Bloggers include David Dombrosky, Clay Lord, Jill Robinson, Nina Simon, Adam Thurman, and many others.

From October 1-5, join us as we wrestle with and ponder on such questions as:

•    What new strategies are you utilizing to broaden your audience and build business?
•    How are you using ROI analysis in your marketing campaigns? Read the rest of this entry »

Seat-o-nomics

Posted by Rick Lester On July - 19 - 2012

Conventional wisdom: A higher price (P1) results in a lower quantity sold (Q1), whereas a lower price (P2) results in a more sales (Q2).

Harry Truman famously expressed a desire to consult only with “one-armed economists.” Our 33rd president wasn’t fond of counsel that began, “On the one hand, this…” and was followed by “On the other hand, that…” Truman wanted straight talk without equivocation.

So, here is a bit of economic straight talk from the data vaults of TRG Arts. Forget everything you learned in that Econ 101 class you took in undergraduate school. You can also forget what you learned at business school. It doesn’t apply to tickets.

Competitive Freedom

Conventional wisdom holds that higher prices reduce demand. For instance, in the consumer universe of unlimited hamburger availability, McDonald’s will sell many at $1.00 and many fewer at $10.00. And, at $100, demand goes to zero.

But, supply and demand curves do not apply to the world of selling tickets.

Those curves depend upon an “open market” of goods and prices. Corn, wheat, and hamburgers are sold in huge open markets. There are vast numbers of buyers and sellers who are free to compete for the exchange of goods and services.

Price subject to desire.

This condition of competitive freedom does not exist when selling tickets.

For example, nonprofit organizations are run by volunteer boards who set, approve or use their clout to influence prices—prices that these same board members pay when they attend the performances presented by their organization. That’s just one reason why the best seats are frequently undervalued. Read the rest of this entry »

Changing Participation in the Arts: Leading by Example

Posted by Elizabeth McCloskey Miller On April - 5 - 2012
Liz Miller

Elizabeth McCloskey Miller

The changing face of cultural participation has been much discussed in recent years. This has been especially true since the publication of the National Endowment for the Arts’ most recent Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which showed a decline in arts attendance for every category except musical plays.

“Cultural Participation in a 2.0 World” was the topic of EALDC’s Creative Conversation in October. It was clearly a subject that resonated across our local network—the event was one of our most well-attended to date, with a standing room-only crowd.

The attendees at our event debated what kind of cultural participation most appealed to them, with many expressing boredom with the tried-and-true efforts at arts engagement. It was not that post-show talkbacks or program inserts were not appreciated; they just were not enough to make people excited.

Adapting to changes in traditional arts participation is a major issue for arts and culture organizations today. Here in the D.C. area, we have seen some innovative efforts at engaging people in the arts, such as the Hirshhorn Museum’s ARTLAB+ space for teens and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s Connectivity initiative (explained on the HowlRound blog).

How can we, as emerging leaders, better encourage participation in the arts? I would venture to say that we must begin by modeling the behavior we hope to see in others. Read the rest of this entry »

Making Change Outside the Office

Posted by Carlos Velázquez On April - 5 - 2012

Carlos Velázquez

In a recent article about Chicago-based artist Eric J. Garcia, whose politically charged work he calls a “weapon to strike at injustice”, he added a caveat for aspiring artists: “Oh-all of this is done on our off-time when we’re not at the day job that pays the bills.”

His words came back to me when reading the prompt to this salon, a quote from Diane Ragsdale on arts sector reform:

“If our goal..is to hold onto our marginalized position and maintain our minuscule reach—rather than…actively addressing the social inequities in our country, and reaching exponentially greater numbers of people—then…I would suggest that it may not merit the vast amounts of time, money, or enthusiasm we would require from talented staffers and artists, governments, foundations, corporations, and private individuals to achieve it.”

I am glad to know that the arts sector is not confining itself to simply holding onto its miniscule reach, and that emerging artists and arts leaders, many working in art and humanities-based nonprofits, are taking the lead.

My position is that they are using the organizational skills, social vocabularies, and leadership experience gained in nonprofit environments well beyond the scope of the workday, to be wielded as “weapons” addressing social inequalities. Read the rest of this entry »

Tossing Small Stones to Change an Entire Landscape

Posted by Kacy O'Brien On April - 3 - 2012

Kacy O'Brien

Change starts small, right?

We have seen time and again that small pockets of people, when seized with an idea, can come together and with the right leadership, momentum, and tools can affect change.

Change often starts with one person and a vision. If we want to be part of the “cultural zeitgeist, actively addressing the social inequities in our country” and reach “exponentially greater numbers of people,” as Diane Ragsdale suggests, then we need to do it in our backyards.

That may sound counter-intuitive—“to reach more people stay close to home”—but in my experience thus far as an early-career theatre producer, it seems to be the only way we’ll stay relevant to our respective communities.

In addition, cultural institutions need to have the room to try out ideas that are related to our missions, but not bound by them. That is not a new idea, by any stretch, but I think if we’re able to consider programming—not funding (though we could use that, too!)—in terms of venture capitalism, we may see large equity returns by way of audience growth, community partnerships and social relevance.

We talk a lot about relevance to our communities in the arts sector, particularly in regional institutions, and I think that the future of arts institutions and artists would benefit greatly from pursuing high-potential, high-risk programmatic change—what I’ll dub “venture capital projects.” Read the rest of this entry »

Clayton Lord

In four days, I have spoken to over 500 people in Boston, New York, DC (which was Livestreamed), and Philadelphia about Counting New Beans and it has been an amazing set of conversations.

Artistic directors, marketers, development people, funders, government representatives—everyone has engaged in a thoughtful and provocative conversation about impact assessment and it’s role in the field.

But I think of all the points raised over the last week, the one that has resonated most with me is around the value and rightness or wrongness of setting artistic goals and then measuring to them.

In Philadelphia, one artistic director admitted to being scared at the implications of being able to measure impact. Alan Brown, speaking from the stage, related a story of an artistic leader in Australia, who upon hearing about impact assessment said, “Great, I’m going to get a 3.5 on spiritual fulfillment this year, and you’re going to expect me to get a 3.6 next year.”

And, just a few minutes ago, I got an extremely well-articulated (and overall very positive and flattering) email from Jason Loewith, executive director of National New Play Network that included a very interesting fleshing out of the fear an artistic leader might have of an outside force, like say a funder, trying to exert control over artistic product through impact assessment. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cracks in the Arts Patron Foundation

Posted by Jill Robinson On March - 27 - 2012
Jill Robinson

Jill Robinson

Ten years into our ongoing patron behavior research and analysis, data is showing us an alarming fact: There’s a huge set of cracks in the foundation of patronage that arts organizations are built upon.

In patron behavior terms, the “cracks” are caused by Tryers. These are households that have infrequent, one-time, or long-ago transactions with arts and entertainment organizations and they are the most prevalent type of patron behavior.

Right now the databases of most arts organizations are likely comprised of 90 percent Tryers. And most of them are patrons you’ve allowed to lapse.

Tryers—TRG Arts research has found—are the least loyal, most expensive to acquire, and most difficult to retain patrons. That most audience or visitor bases are built on Tryers is a real threat to the sustainable future of arts and entertainment organizations. It doesn’t have to be that way.

  • The focus on finding new single ticket buyers is part of the problem. Research tells us that new ticket buyers churn out an alarmingly high rate after their first attendance. Often, organizations lose more patrons than they bring in annually, and that trend triggers institutional decline.
  • Specific patronage programs–subscription, annual fund giving, membership–are escalators toward lifetime loyalty. Patrons who stick with a company over time and through continuing investment—loyalists—do so through these programs.
  • Loyal patrons are made, not found. An organization’s most loyal, most engaged, largest invested patrons rarely if ever arrive in an organization’s pool of supporters fully formed. Research shows that new patrons who do stick with an organization do so by adding specific transactions in an escalating pattern of increased, frequent, current investments of time and money. Read the rest of this entry »

Is There a Point of Diminishing Returns for the Arts?

Posted by Michael R. Gagliardo On March - 26 - 2012
Michael R. Gagliardo

Michael R. Gagliardo

In the arts world, we find ourselves constantly searching for ways to engage the community. Every day we think about how we draw in more constituents: bigger audiences, more donors, a larger base of support, etc. And often the answer seems obvious—offer more.

But is there a point of diminishing returns?

It’s the old question of quantity versus quality. Sometimes it seems like the only way to bring new audiences to the table is to offer more—more concerts, more exhibits, more performances, more, more, more. But does it work?

Are we really bringing a new crowd to the work that we hold so dear? Or are we simply “watering down” the arts in an attempt to make them “user friendly?”

This is a hard question to answer—a hard question to face, really—when arts organizations are struggling for funding and watching audiences fade away and make other choices of where to spend their money and time.

I have heard people scoff at the notion of consumers spending their “entertainment dollars” on the arts. But we have to be realistic—the arts are a form of entertainment, and we have to compete with every other entertainment industry in the market.  Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.