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Engaging Audiences

Can arts organizations build audiences in tough times? A 2009 Wallace Foundation conference showed how some groups are persevering.
August 2009
2 mixed race woman standing in an art gallery looking at pictures hung up on the wall
  • Publisher(s)
  • The Wallace Foundation
Page Count 21 pages


While it’s more challenging during hard economic times for arts organizations to continue devoting time and effort to building new audiences, this work—and the lessons from it—are also more vital than ever to the long-term health of the entire arts sector. That was the message at a 2009 conference in Philadelphia of more than 50 arts organizations receiving Wallace Excellence Awards for making arts a bigger part of people’s lives. In fact, according to conference speakers, the challenges arts organizations face stem not only from the nation’s economic woes in the wake of the Great Recession but also from longer-term seismic shifts, such as new technology allowing people to interact more spontaneously and a growing number of leisure-time options.

Speakers included Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and John Zogby, a public-opinion pollster. A major topic of discussion was the use of various audience-building mechanisms. Participants learned how market research can help organizations better understand—and tap into—changing demographics and audience preferences as well as how new technologies can be harnessed to engage new audiences. Conference speakers also pointed to a strong correlation between the extent to which people engage in various forms of artistic experiences in their lives and their propensity to attend professional arts and cultural events.

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