This case study examines the efforts of the San Francisco Girls Chorus to rebrand its artistic and cultural profile. It is the product of multiple interviews with key staff and analysis of program elements, budgets, and planning documents.
Can an arts organization overhaul its branding and reshape public perceptions? This case study looks at the San Francisco Girls Chorus (SFGC) and its ambitious program to transform its local artistic image and cultural profile to match its performance level.
The article is part of a set of case studies and reports looking at the efforts of arts organizations that received Wallace Excellence Awards to reach new audiences and deepen relationships with current ones. The pieces examine projects at 10 of the 54 organizations that received WEA grants between 2006 and 2014.
A 2017 update continues to follow SFGC’s decade-long efforts to bring in new audiences.
The problem SFGC faced was one of image, not quality. It produced award-winning vocal music, but had difficulty attracting classical music patrons to its concert series in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Focus group research revealed that the local audience was unaware of both the artistic potential of girls’ choruses in general and the SFGC’s depth of artistry. The classical music patrons in the focus groups assumed that girls choruses were youthful training grounds with amateur performance standards.
With those insights, SFGC embarked on a rebranding campaign to emphasize the chorus’s artistic excellence. By doing so, it hoped to diversify its audience beyond “friends and family.”
This effort included:
The rebranding also required much deeper changes in the fabric of the organization. To that end, leadership:
Still, the changes ultimately led to the departure of many of the 22 board members who were unhappy with the changes, leaving just ten remaining.
Early signs suggest that SFGC has achieved some success in reshaping its audience. The percentage of first-time classical music patrons attending San Francisco Girls Chorus performances rose from 18 percent in 2008 to 23 percenttwo years later. At the same time, total concert attendance was flat over the time covered by the case study..
Turning audience perceptions around for good will require ongoing, consistent work. According to the case study’s authors, SFGC will need to continue its commitment to rebranding, while delivering high-quality experiences.