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The Wallace Foundation Announces 26 Performing Arts Organizations Chosen for New, $52-Million Audience-Building Initiative

Twenty-six Performing Arts Organizations Chosen for $52-Million Arts Effort
April 15, 2015

The Wallace Foundation


Press contacts: 
The Wallace Foundation 
Jessica Schwartz 

Resnicow + Associates 
Sara Griffin
Emily Viemeister
Maria May


Arts organizations’ audience work to be studied; results on effectiveness of new strategies to be widely shared to benefit arts organizations nationwide 

NEW YORK, April 15, 2015 – Twenty-six performing arts institutions from across the U.S. have been selected to take part in The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability effort – a new, six-year, $52-million initiative aimed at developing practical insights into how arts organizations can successfully expand their audiences, the foundation announced today. The grant recipients, all noted for artistic excellence, will design and implement programs to attract new audiences while retaining current ones, measuring whether and how this contributes to their overall financial health. 

Representing a spectrum of organizations – from dance and opera companies to orchestras, theaters, and multidisciplinary arts institutions – the selected partners will receive financial and technical support from the foundation to develop, implement and learn from their audience-building work. The evidence gathered from these organizations will be documented and analyzed by an independent team of researchers, providing valuable insights, ideas and information for the entire field. 

The arts organizations are:

  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York
  • ASU Gammage, Tempe
  • Ballet Austin
  • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra  
  • Cal Performances, Berkeley
  • Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans
  • Denver Center Theatre Company
  • Goodman Theatre, Chicago
  • 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, Seattle
  • The Pasadena Playhouse
  • Portland Center Stage, Oregon
  • San Francisco Performances
  • Seattle Opera
  • Seattle Symphony Orchestra
  • Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago
  • University Musical Society, Ann Arbor
  • Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago
  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington, D.C.
  • World Music/CRASHarts, Boston

“The arts are essential on both a personal level, providing us with experiences that open us to new perspectives, and on a community level, helping us to find common ground,” said Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation. “However, attracting and engaging new audiences is challenging for arts organizations because, even as the number of arts groups has grown, national rates of participation in the arts have declined, arts education has waned, and competition for ways to spend leisure time has increased. We are confident that the 26 organizations selected from a pool of more than 300 identified by leaders in the arts nationwide will provide new insights that will benefit the field at large, helping to bring the arts to a broader and more diverse group of people.”

The projects to be carried out by the arts organizations are designed to reach a variety of diverse audiences, including racial and ethnic groups, age-cohorts (primarily young people) and people working in specific sectors.  Strategies include commissioning new art that would resonate with particular groups, involving target audience members in the creation and selection of works to be performed, creating events that allow audience members to gather and learn more about the art, and staging works in non-traditional venues that are more easily accessible to the target audience. 

A sampling of the work that will be done with funding through the initiative includes:

  • Attracting diverse audiences through the establishment of an advisory council of business, academic and cultural leaders representing communities across the city to help inform new programs (Victory Gardens Theater);
  • Expanding reach to younger adult audiences by spotlighting young talent and developing informal chamber concerts that will be promoted via social media (New York Philharmonic);
  • Building an audience that reflects the cultural diversity of the community by broadcasting performances and performing in places of worship (Opera Theatre of Saint Louis);
  • Enlisting young professionals to help inform the presentation of new dance works that will be presented outside of the traditional performance space (Pacific Northwest Ballet); and
  • Inaugurating a global music festival for young and culturally diverse audiences (World Music/CRASHarts).

The participating arts organizations are from all major regions of the country, and have annual budgets ranging from $1.5 million to more than $20 million. They will receive grant support from Wallace to fund at least two “continuous learning cycles” of work. Over the course of four years, they will develop and implement a new audience-building program (first cycle), study the results, and then use the findings to implement a second cycle of programs. They will also receive funding for audience research to inform their work. (Grant amounts provided in the attached description of projects cover audience research and, in most instances, the first cycle of work.) Wallace will commission research to capture the arts organizations’ experiences and accomplishments for a series of public reports.

“As our city grows and changes, we find ourselves immersed in a vibrant community of young professionals  who have not yet been drawn into attending the BSO concerts in the numbers we would like to see," said Marin Alsop, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the grant recipients. “With the Wallace partnership, we now have the resources to experiment with innovative artistic initiatives designed to build our relationship and expand our reach to this generation of entrepreneurial thinkers. We are extremely appreciative to have this opportunity not only to try new artistic initiatives, but to gather data on why this community has not been coming to our performances and how we can better engage them. We are eager to share what we learn with our colleagues across the country and look forward to hearing and learning from the other Wallace partners.”

The foundation, which announced the initiative last October with a livestreamed panel discussion on the benefits of bringing new approaches to engaging audiences, invited 87 arts organizations to submit audience-building proposals, from a pool of more than 300 arts organizations, for consideration to receive Wallace grants. The final 26 were selected on the basis of a number of factors: proposals that integrated high-quality artistic programing with innovative approaches to engaging desired audiences, the relevance of their proposed projects to the larger field, and the organizations’ internal capacity to participate in a multi-year initiative and report on results.

Due to the strength and complexity of the 26 proposals selected, Wallace increased funding for the initiative; the foundation last fall envisioned a $40-million initiative with grants going to 25 arts organizations. After seeing the richness of the ideas in the proposals submitted, Wallace increased the number to 26 and overall funding to $52 million. 

Building Audiences for Sustainability continues the foundation’s 25-year history of support for the arts, with a particular emphasis on building audiences. The new initiative will add insights gained through this history and especially the more recent Wallace Excellence Awards initiative, a multi-year effort, concluded in 2014, that supported audience-building projects in 54 visual and performing arts organizations in six cities around the country: Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle. An analysis of 10 case studies of these projects identified nine evidence-based actions that organizations can take to successfully engage audiences. The analysis, The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences, written by Bob Harlow, an expert in market research, is available on the Wallace website, along with seven of the ten case studies. (The remaining three case studies are scheduled to be published later this year.) 

The initiatives have their intellectual underpinnings in a seminal, 2001 Wallace-commissioned RAND report A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts. It suggests that building arts audiences refers to one or more of three activities: “broadening” audiences (increasing an audience size by bringing in people who are already inclined to enjoy the art form but are not current audience members), “deepening” (having current audience members attend more often), or “diversifying” (engaging new groups). It also identifies ways arts organizations can build audiences while avoiding hit-or-miss efforts that waste scarce resources. The approach stresses that audience-building work must be tightly aligned with an arts organization’s mission, resources and operations, and that the work needs to be continuously studied and refined.

“Building audiences is one of the most pressing challenges facing arts leaders today, but many organizations lack the resources and information they need to generate new and innovative practices,” said Daniel Windham, the foundation’s director of arts. “Over the past 25 years, we have consistently supported initiatives and commissioned research to build a resource of replicable methods for audience building. The work of these 26 organizations will build on the knowledge we’ve already gained, adding to the resources that we share with the field.”  

Building Audiences for Sustainability Independent Study 
To ensure that the efforts of the selected arts organizations will inform and strengthen the audience-building efforts of the community of performing arts organizations nationwide, the foundation plans to commission an independent, $3.5-million study. It will assess whether the organizations made audience gains, whether these gains were sustained and how the gains contributed to the organization’s overall financial health. The study’s findings are expected to result in a series of public reports to be published over the course of the initiative, beginning in 2017.

In addition, Wallace has formed partnerships with seven service organizations in the arts to provide the field with findings from the initiative through their publications, presentations, newsletters and other communications. The organizations – American Alliance of Museums, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Chamber Music America, Dance USA, League of American Orchestras, Opera America and Theatre Communications Group – have been actively tackling audience-building with their members. A partnership with the Association of Arts Administration Educators will help make this knowledge available for use in graduate and undergraduate programs that prepare future arts leaders. 

Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group, the national service organization for American nonprofit theaters, remarked, “The Wallace Foundation is addressing the vitally important issue of audience building in a way that will help us learn from the knowledge that is gained. Our member theaters, as well as other performing arts organizations, are seeking reliable, evidence-based information on effective practices that can be adapted to the strengths of their organizations and needs of their own communities. The entire sector will benefit from this initiative.”

For more information on Building Audiences for Sustainability or on other Wallace arts initiatives, please visit:

About The Wallace Foundation
Based in New York City, The Wallace Foundation is an independent national philanthropy dedicated to fostering improvements in learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and the vitality of the arts for everyone. It seeks to catalyze broad impact by supporting the development, testing, and sharing of new solutions and effective practices. At, the Foundation maintains an online library about what it has learned, including knowledge from its current efforts aimed at: strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement, helping selected cities make good afterschool programs available to more children, expanding arts learning opportunities for children and teens, providing high-quality  summer learning programs to disadvantaged children and enriching and expanding the school day in ways that benefit students, and helping arts organizations build their audiences.


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