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Great Lakes Theater "The Merry Wives of Windsor," 2014

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5 Ways To Work With Your Audience

Resources on Audience Development

Back in May, we had the pleasure of having an Arts and Culture Roundtable that focused on Audience development. Attendees were able to hear from five speakers including Ross Binnie from The Cleveland Orchestra, Talise Campbell from Djapo Cultural Arts Institute, Ed Gilchrist from the Cleveland Play House, Sara Laskey from MetroHealth and Leland Patton from the Cleveland Indians. Each presenter spoke for a short time on their work in audience development within their organization. Here are some of the key themes and takeaways from these five speakers’ presentations.

1. Experience

As organizations, we are often working to grow our audiences and give them the best experience we can offer. Audience experience can make or break an event, so it is important to create quality programming for an event to be memorable and positive enough for a patron or customer to return. As someone involved in much of the marketing within CPAC, I understand that audience is a large focus for many arts organizations. If I like the venue, enjoy the production, am pleased by the atmosphere, and meet great people, I am more likely to attend an organization's upcoming event(s). But experience is different for everyone, so we have to cater to different types of people and different types of personalities. Developing and deepening attendees’ experience is very important when it comes to audience development. Providing a good experience also includes follow-up which I will cover in the following sections.

2. Listen

In order to give audience members the best experience, we must listen to them and be attentive to what they want. I know that at CPAC, we are always available to take phone calls and chat with people who need to meet with us.  We have to be willing to not only listen and understand what our audiences are looking for, but we also must meet them where they are in their lives. We must be flexible, open to change and understand that what we want may not always fit well with reality. Through listening to our audiences, we can analyze the information and data we receive from different perspectives and summarize it into useful information, a process Leland Patton talked about called data mining. We have to understand what our audience members are looking for when deciding what is next.

3. Communicate

Following on the tail of listening is communicating with our audiences. Communication goes both ways, so along with listening, we must be willing to contribute to the conversation. We have to provide opportunities for interaction by reaching out to our audience members as well as reaching out to those who are not yet part of our audience. At CPAC, we often reach out to our audience by sending out surveys in response to our events and also sending them out if we need help figuring out if it’s worthwhile to put a plan into motion. We reach out to people who aren’t in our audience by purchasing ads and placing postcards in local strategic locations, among other strategies. It’s important to know what the audience wants, accept that they are changing and be responsive to how they want to consume culture.

4. Collaborate

Another theme from the Roundtable was collaboration. This collaboration could be with organizations involved with music, sports, health, arts, etc. It does not have to be with organizations that are similar or focused on the same things. We recently were focused on collaborating with local health institutions and organizations working on our study on arts and health, titled “Creative Minds in Medicine,” followed by our conference last year. I had never realized the importance of the arts and health intersection and how much the arts can help patients. Collaborations between organizations in the area have expanded audiences across the board and I think our collaboration with the health sector was really important in growing and strengthening our organization and our audience.

5. Take Calculated Risks

The last theme I’ll focus on is taking calculated risks. As organizations, we need to be willing to take calculated risks and move beyond our silos of work and expertise and try new things. We have to be ready to change and respond to the environment as it changes. We can’t be static. We have to find ways to reach people we have not reached before and not be afraid to try new avenues. This is along the lines of what we did when preparing for our “Creative Minds in Medicine” research piece. We reached out to and connected with people we had not connected with in the past.

Ross Binnie also talked about how The Cleveland Orchestra challenged assumptions when they were thinking about doing neighborhood residencies. It was assumed that the music would only sound good when performed in venues made for performance purposes. It was eventually acknowledged that the music would still sound good performed in different places, just not as good as it would sound when performed in traditional venues. Taking those calculated risks can lead to positive results.

Here are a couple links to recent research on the topic of audience development.

The Wallace Foundation: http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/audience-development-for-the-arts/Pages/default.aspx

The National Arts Marketing Project Conference: http://www.artsmarketing.org/ 

Categories: audience, collaboration, communication, communication strategies, experience, Listening

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