Engage 2020 Innovation Case Studies Highlight 10 Experiments in Audience Engagement
Karim Olaechea, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
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Betsy Anderson, The Philadelphia Foundation
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Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and The Philadelphia Foundation Release Case Studies Highlighting Challenges and Rewards for Arts Groups at the Forefront of Audience Development
Philadelphia, PA | April 4, 2012 - The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and The Philadelphia Foundation are releasing the findings of the 2010 Innovation Grants Programs -- a one-time $750,000 initiative to stimulate innovative marketing and programming practices among arts and cultural groups throughout the region. Projects covered a broad range of strategies from developing teenage journalists in the theatre community (Walnut Theatre), to encouraging audience participation in choral performances (Mendelssohn Club) and merging live performances with online social networking (New Paradise Laboratories).
With the Innovation Grants, the Cultural Alliance and The Philadelphia Foundation were looking to ten city cultural organizations to, very literally, put research into action. Ten participating organizations were awarded grants of up to $75,000 each. They then had 18 months to design and implement marketing and audience outreach programs that responded directly to one or more of the ten findings identified in Research into Action: Pathways to New Opportunities, a 2009 report that compiled findings from five separate cultural engagement studies, including the Cultural Engagement Index (CEI), a broad measure of the diverse cultural activities of the region’s residents.
“With our 2009 report Research into Action, we had provided new data and direction to the cultural community on how to more effectively market their product and expand engagement,” says Cultural Alliance President Tom Kaiden. “The Innovation Grants give us the chance to see what works in the field, and what doesn’t. These case studies provide invaluable lessons for cultural organizations looking at remaking their own marketing programs.”
Innovation grant recipients were Art Sanctuary, Curtis Institute of Music, Fairmount Park Art Association, First Person Arts, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, New Paradise Laboratories, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, People’s Light & Theatre, Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates and Walnut Street Theatre.
“Many of the participating organizations used the grants to experiment and go beyond their comfort zones. Some leveraged new technologies. Others encouraged the public to take a more active role in shaping the final artistic product,” noted R. Andrew Swinney, President of The Philadelphia Foundation. “Several organizations learned that making such changes is time-consuming, so the projects will take more than 18 months to bear fruit. In that way, the insights gained through the projects will be ongoing.”
Throughout the process, the cultural organizations learned lessons that are valuable for the sector as a whole, specifically:
Personal practice is a key way to involve current and potential audience members. Seven of the ten Engage 2020 organizations involved people in some type of creation. Of all the Cultural Alliance’s findings, this was the most common thread among the projects. Participating organizations tapped into a creative hunger among audience members. Cultural organizations can provide a space to fulfill that hunger, especially if they let go of some control.
New Paradise Laboratories (NPL) took this notion the farthest by creating an online space where visitors could create and post their own art without a direct relationship to NPL’s productions. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts similarly provided a space for children and adults to make art—an effort that exceeded the museum’s own projections for attendance. The next steps for both organizations is to pilot ways that the audience-generated art can tie in more closely with the works produced or shown by them.
Parents want to find ways to be involved with their children, including teens, and creating and participating in culture can provide an ideal opening for that interaction. Three of the projects focused on bringing parents and children together; two of them involving parents and teens. While it might not be surprising that parents with young children leapt at the opportunity to participate in a fun weekend activity, it may be a bit more noteworthy how eager parents of teens were to find a way to engage with them. Parents in the Walnut Street Theatre project, for example, participated in all phases of the project, including attending special events and discussing the play with their teens afterward. The teens also seemed happy to have an organized event in which they could spend time with their parents.
Teens want to be involved in the creation and expression of art. Three of the projects focused on engaging teens. A common thread was that teens wanted more opportunities to create, not just learn about arts and culture, and that they wanted to have more control over what that creation would look like. For example, all three projects tried to get teens to blog about their experiences; it mostly fell flat in each case perhaps because blogging is not a forum that teens normally use to communicate. Both the Walnut Street and People’s Light project found, however, that teens did want more even more opportunities to participate in the creation of art. People’s Light is responding to that desire in part by creating structured internships for teens at the organization.
People need a variety of ways to access and interact with a cultural organization. The more entrance points an organization can offer potential audience members, the more likely it may be that they will participate. For example, Mural Arts Advocates of Philadelphia created a number of ways that people could access its African American Mural Arts including self-tours, guided tours, watching the tour online and getting an educational guide.
Similarly, the Mendelssohn Club provided audience members who were interested in participating with a number of ways to do so including attending an open rehearsal, watching a YouTube demonstration and being part of a mini-rehearsal at the concert itself. Audience members could also opt out of all of these opportunities and decide not to participate or even attend.
Social media and online forums can be an important part of audience engagement efforts but they must be tied to “live” events. New Paradise Laboratories (NPL) took full advantage of social media by building an interactive website for visitors. But staff found that its online audience did not necessarily attend its live events and that its audience at live events did not necessarily want to go online to see other, related content. Similarly, First Person Arts found that its live event drew a good response but that its website did not tie closely enough into the event, which limited the reach of its storytelling project. To make full use of social media, cultural organizations found that they needed to link it more closely with their events. Both NPL and First Person Arts are working on ways to create closer ties in the next iteration of this work.
Overall, the projects demonstrated that the process of audience engagement can have a positive effect not just on audiences but on arts and culture organizations as well. Simply looking at one’s audiences in new ways—not just as passive recipients, but as people who are interested and have a voice—can have a transformative effect on cultural organizations. The Curtis Institute of Music, which has not finished its project, has already piloted a successful audience engagement project aimed at young concert goers as a result. The Mendelssohn Club staff said that they are looking at all of their upcoming productions through the lens of audience engagement now. New Paradise Laboratories staff say that through their new online interactive presence, they have a new way to involve their audiences in creating content for their upcoming productions.
A copy of the full report is available on the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s web site, www.philaculture.org.
About the 2020 Innovation Grants
The Engage 2020 Innovation Grants Program was supported by The Wallace Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Philadelphia Foundation, and is a program of the Cultural Alliance's research and marketing initiative Engage 2020.
About the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
The Cultural Alliance’s mission is to lead, strengthen and give voice to a diverse cultural sector that is making Philadelphia a world-class region to live, work and play. Working with more than 400 nonprofit arts and cultural institutions located primarily in the five counties of southeastern Pennsylvania, the Alliance believes that Greater Philadelphia grows stronger and more vibrant by growing its arts and culture. The Alliance’s work promotes that mission through initiatives that leverage arts and culture to inspire individuals and build community and civic engagement. These efforts include connecting cultural resources to community needs; providing direct services for nonprofit cultural organizations; leading cultural research, advocacy and policy work; and producing direct marketing programs for cultural consumers.
The Cultural Alliance’s work reflects these key principles: Arts and culture is an engine for economic growth. It has the power to elevate lives. It has the power to educate. We own it, as residents of the Greater Philadelphia region, because it comes from us. It helps individuals come together and grow as a community.
About The Philadelphia Foundation
Since 1918, The Philadelphia Foundation has linked those with financial resources to those who serve societal needs. It is the region’s community foundation, serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
By growing the 800 funds established by its donors and distributing $20 million annually in grants and scholarships to effective nonprofit organizations, The Philadelphia Foundation improves Southeastern Pennsylvania’s quality of life. The Foundation helps build healthy communities, strengthen children and families, advance economic opportunities and enhances culture and recreation. For more information, visit www.philafound.org.
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