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Building Audiences for Sustainability

The initiative invested $52 million over five years to support audience-building efforts in 25 performing arts organizations across the U.S.
Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers.

What we did

Performing arts organizations in the U.S. have long been squeezed between rising production costs and declining audiences. The Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative funded 25 arts organizations to see whether innovative audience-building projects could help them escape this vise. Organizations experimented with new artworks, new venues, and new engagement activities. They studied the results of each effort and worked to improve it throughout the initiative. The ultimate goal: to see if audience gains could contribute to the organizations’ financial health.

What we learned

Research into the initiative, which was based on interviews with leaders and staff of the organizations participating in the initiative, found that many organizations did build audiences. But these audiences had little effect on their finances. Still, the initiative reaped important lessons. Millennials turned out to be far more diverse than many organizations had assumed. Data helped organizations better understand their audiences and improve their work. Many organizations are now rethinking business models and shifting focus from ticket sales to relationships with their communities.

Our Grantee Partners

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

ASU Gammage

Ballet Austin

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Cal Performances

Contemporary Arts Center

Denver Center Theatre Company

Goodman Theatre

La Jolla Playhouse

Los Angeles Philharmonic

Lyric Opera of Chicago

New York Philharmonic

Oakland East Bay Symphony

Opera Philadelphia

Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Pacific Northwest Ballet

The Pasadena Playhouse

Portland Center Stage

San Francisco Performances

Seattle Opera

Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Steppenwolf Theatre Company

University Musical Society

Victory Gardens Theater

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

World Music/CRASHarts


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