Ballet Austin: Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Work

Editor’s note: Please join Dance/USA on Wednesday, April 26, 2017, at 2:00 p.m. ET for Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Work: Lessons from Ballet Austin, a FREE webinar on audience building featuring Cookie Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin, and Michelle Martin, associate artistic director of Ballet Austin. The webinar will present a discussion on developing audiences for new choreographic work and the use of market research to track effectiveness of new programs and learn more about what is and is not working. Register here today!

Ballet Austin: Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Work

Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Ballet Austin

By Andrew Decker for The Wallace Foundation

Every December, Ballet Austin puts on The Nutcracker, choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Stephen Mills. Virtually all of the 14 performances at the 2,442-seat Long Center for the Performing Arts are filled to capacity. “We could sell out more shows,” says Cookie Ruiz, executive director of the Texas company, “but it would wear our dancers out.”

Packed houses are the case for other classics, too. But a different picture emerges for more abstract works, which don’t attract the crowds that flock to Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and the like. That reality is frustrating for the dance company — and not just because unsold tickets mean unrealized revenue. It also runs counter to Ballet Austin’s mission: to create new work and develop talent, thereby extending the ballet repertoire and advancing the art form. Ruiz sums up the problem with a simple question:


Ballet Austin: Expanding Audiences for Unfamiliar Work

Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Ballet Austin

“How do we go about developing larger audiences for entirely new work?”

In 2015, Ballet Austin embarked on a six-year project to get some answers, spurred in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation. Hewing to principles of what’s loosely known as “continuous improvement,” the ballet company has been conducting research, developing initiatives informed by what the research suggests, examining the results — and then launching new marketing strategies and engagement offerings based on the findings. Less than a year and a half into the venture, coordinators of the work at Ballet Austin have often been surprised by what they have learned — especially by the way research can upend even long-held assumptions.

Find out how the company is using research to find new, effective ways to engage audiences with all forms of ballet. Read the full article on The Wallace Foundation website here.

Watch a video that takes you behind the scenes and describes the early work of some of the performing arts organizations in The Wallace Foundation’s Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative.

This content originally appeared on The Wallace Foundation website. It is reprinted here with permission.


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