Building Audiences for the Arts: Research and Resources

Dance/USA and The Wallace Foundation support the field’s efforts to build audiences for dance. Diversifying the current audience mix, converting people who are inclined to attend, but don’t, into attendees; getting current audiences members to attend more often: These are difficult but important challenges that many arts institutions face and want to tackle. 

Resources Available

Browse research, reports, webinars, case studies, articles, and more from The Wallace Foundation and Dance/USA for insights and information on building audiences for the arts.

In Search of the Magic Bullet: Results from the Building Audiences for Sustainability Initiative A report examines the audience-building strategies implemented by 25 performing arts organizations. Findings suggest that while expanding audiences is possible, it may not always happen on an organization’s desired terms.

A Place to be Heard; a Space to Feel Held: Black Perspectives on Creativity, Trustworthiness, Welcome and Well-Being–Findings from a Qualitative Study
A study of Black Americans suggests that Black communities most value arts experiences that celebrate their creativity, support self-care, earn their trust and foster a sense of belonging.

Why Is It Important That We Continue? Some Nonprofit Arts Organizations Rethink Their Value in Challenging Times. ​​​​​​​​​Sustainability for nonprofit arts organizations should not be an end itself but rather a means for pursuing mission-related goals, according to this brief.​

The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations, Part II: A Spotlight on Organizations of Color
​​​​21 leaders of arts organizations of color report deep community engagement and high-quality programs were critical to their financial health​.

Millennials Are Not a Monolith: Experiences from One Group of Performing Arts Organizations’ Audience-Building Efforts 
​​Strategies to engage millennials in the arts may benefit from accounting for the group’s differences as well as its similarities, according to this brief.

What They Say and What They Do
​​​​​​​​How post-performance survey data can help arts organizations learn more about their audiences

Navigating Uncertain Times: A Scenario Planning Toolkit for the Arts and Culture Sector 
A scenario planning toolkit is designed to help arts organizations think through how to respond to various future conditions.

Arts Organizations’ Early Response to COVID-19 Uncertainty: Insights from the Field
​​​More virtual content, more experimentation and more emphasis on social impact could be features of the arts during the early 2020s in response to pandemic and other uncertainties.

The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations
Financial success for arts organizations begins with artistic excellence and cultural relevance, suggest interviews with leaders of 20 high-performing organizations.

The Power of Immersive and Experiential Theatre and Dance: Lessons from the Denver Center Theatre Company and Third Rail Projects on Building New Audiences, A Webinar 
Dance/USA presented a webinar featuring a conversation between two organizations about re-contextualizing dance and theatre performance and engaging millennials. They shared quantitative and qualitative data about how immersive and experiential works are becoming increasingly sought after across a broad range of demographics, and examined their recent collaboration as a case study on how immersive work and integrated marketing and research efforts can foster new audiences and transform the conversation.

Engaging New Audiences for Unconventional Work: Lessons from UMS, A Webinar
Dance/USA presented a webinar featuring a conversation and q&a about University Musical Society’s (UMS) efforts, with the support of The Wallace Foundation, to develop adventurous audiences with its Renegade events. Renegade features innovative, risk-taking music, dance, and theater, often in alternative and unexpected places.

Community Engagement: Lessons from the CAC on Building Audiences for Dance, A Webinar
Dance/USA presented a webinar featuring a discussion on how two arts organizations are working to engage young African American audiences in New Orleans by launching educational and social programs that promote lively interaction between performing artists and the community.

Ballet Austin: Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Work
How one arts organization is using research to find new, effective ways to engage audiences with all forms of ballet.   

Ballet Austin: Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Works, A Discussion Guide
A tool for arts administrators and practitioners seeking to learn about Ballet Austin’s experiences in audience building and adapt them to their own context.

Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Work: Lessons from Ballet Austin, A Webinar 
Dance/USA presented a webinar featuring a discussion with Ballet Austin on developing audiences for new work and the use of market research to track effectiveness of new programs.  

Building Audiences for Dance: Lessons from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Pacific Northwest Ballet, A Webinar
Dance/USA presented a webinar featuring presentations by two organizations, which with the support from The Wallace Foundation, have used market research strategies to test initiatives designed to attract new millennial audiences.

Building Millennial Audiences: Barriers and Opportunities
Arts organizations could help attract millennials by clarifying pricing and better explaining the value of the arts, suggests this Wallace-commissioned synthesis of market research.

Lessons on Using Market Research To Expand Audiences: Wallace Foundation Grantees Share Early Lessons at the Dance/USA 2017 Annual Conference
Read in From the Green Room how Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Pacific Northwest Ballet are using market research to attract and retain younger audiences.

Denver Center Theatre Company is Cracking the Millennial Code…One Step at a Time
How the company’s experimental offshoot, Off-Center, is creating new types of theater to attract and retain younger audiences.

Can the City’s Boom Mean New Audiences for the Seattle Symphony?
In line with the community’s spirit of innovation, Seattle Symphony is using audience research to help target and woo recent transplants. 

Family-Friendly Programming Helps Dance Organizations Attract Fans and See What’s Beyond the Box Office 
Learn in From the Green Room about dance organizations that are programming to convert families into fans. Seven such organizations use educational outreach, community engagement, added benefits and special programming to reach all types of families. 

Boosting Audience Engagement by the Numbers
Want to boost your audience engagement? Reach more ticket buyers and build solid relationships with attendees? Where do you look for answers? The Wallace Foundation’s Daniel Windham talks with From the Green Room about the topic 

Staying Relevant in a Changing Neighborhood
Learn in From the Green Room how three arts organizations, Dance Place in Washington, DC, Fleisher Arts Memorial in Philadelphia, and Kun Yang Lin/Dancers in Philadelphia, adapt to attract audiences.

Casing Out a Case Study
Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Ellen Walker tells From the Green Room about the company’s Wallace audience engagement project and the process she and her marketing and executive team followed to attract and build a new target audience — teenagers. 

Taking Out the Guesswork: Using Research to Build Arts Audiences 
This practical guide shows arts organizations how to use research to cultivate audiences, including low cost tips for organizations of all sizes. 

The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences 
This report identifies and examines nine practices of arts organizations that successfully expanded their audiences. 

The Party’s Still a Hit: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Builds on its Millennial Momentum
A museum addressed declining attendance among younger adults by using market research and other strategies to find new ways to reach and engage a younger millennial audience

Traveling a Long Road: A Decade of Efforts to Cultivate a New Audience at the San Francisco Girls Chorus
Learn how the San Francisco Girls Chorus is breaking down stereotypes and attracting new audiences its performances.

Converting Family into Fans: How the Contemporary Jewish Museum Expanded its Reach
The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco moves to a larger space and secures a nine-fold increase in family visitors of all backgrounds.

Getting Past “It’s Not for People Like Us”: Pacific Northwest Ballet Builds a Following With Teens and Young Adults 
A Seattle-based ballet company garnered new interest in traditional and contemporary ballet among teens and adults under the age of 25.

Staying Relevant in a Changing Neighborhood: How Fleisher Art Memorial is Adapting to Shifting Community Demographics
An art school responded to shifting demographics in its Southeast Philadelphia community by increasing its visibility in the neighborhood and other steps.

Extending Reach with Technology: Seattle Opera’s Multipronged Experiment to Deepen Relationships and Reach New Audiences
To engage audiences, the Seattle Opera used technology including simulcasts, interactive lobby displays and behind-the-scenes videos.

Opening New Doors: Hands-On Participation Brings a New Audience to The Clay Studio
Short classes, flexible schedules, new communications and “Date Nights” help Philadelphia’s The Clay Studio attract new, younger audiences.

Someone Who Speaks Their Language: How a Nontraditional Partner Brought New Audiences to Minnesota Opera
Learn how an opera company attracted new audience members among women ages 35 to 60 with an unlikely partnership with a local talk-radio host.

Building Deeper Relationships: How Steppenwolf Theatre Company Is Turning Single-Ticket Buyers Into Repeat Visitors
Learn how the Steppenwolf Theatre Company is turning single-ticket buyers into repeat visitors.

Cultivating the Next Generation of Art Lovers: How Boston Lyric Opera Sought to Create Greater Opportunities for Families to Attend Opera
Learn about the Boston Lyric Opera’s efforts to increase opportunities for families to attend opera performances with the goal of engaging future audiences.

Additional Resources and Information

Find additional resources about Wallace Building Arts for Sustainability initiative here.

Learn about The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative here.

These resources are made possible by The Wallace Foundation. Dance/USA is working with The Wallace Foundation as a communications partner to disseminate information about building audiences for the arts.

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