Friday, November 24, 2006

Outreach does not build audiences?

Classical music keeps popping up as a topic in the not-for-profit sector these days, and it's not all about big established institutions: turns out that at least in Chicago and New York there is now a thriving alternative classical-music scene. Not being a big classical fan myself I wasn't really aware of this in Chicago until taking my present job, in which capacity I've become acquainted with the dozens of small independent chamber music, opera, symphony and classical-dance groups around here. There are more than 300 non-profit music organizations in the Chicago region now, not even counting the non-profit multipurpose arts councils and such.

Meanwhile the world of big orchestras is abuzz right now with some startling conclusions of a huge long-term experiment by the large James S. and John L. Knight Foundation. Having spent 10 years and $13 million investing in audience-building efforts by a dozen symphonies around the country, the foundation commissioned a frank assessment of the results. They were trying to figure out why so many orchestras outside the top half-dozen are chronically on the edge of financial collapse?

Among the Knight conclusions: "Free programming and outreach do not turn people into ticket buyers." Also that there is a large audience interested in classical music in the U.S.: "The problems of orchestras stem not from the music they play but from the delivery systems they employ." And this interesting thought: "Orchestras need to do more research on those who do _not_ attend their concerts," that is, audience research is invariably conducted among those who have already gotten the message and is therefore useless for figuring out how to attract new ticketbuyers.

While clearly some of the conditions Knight found are specific to symphonies, I was struck by how much it sounded just like the classical dance, opera and repertory-theater sectors. Don't the folks running those institutions think that the way to entice new people is to "get them in the theater once" with a free ticket? Isn't most audience surveying by theater/dance/opera conducted among folks who are already bought in?

1 comment:

sdrone said...

A friend of mine plays for the Dupage Symphony orchestra and we see them at least once, often 3 times/year.

I just noticed a few days ago that there's apparently an Evanston Symphony Orchestra. I didn't know about them when I lived in the area.