Four major Chicago arts organizations receive Wallace Foundation grants to study audience building

SHARE Four major Chicago arts organizations receive Wallace Foundation grants to study audience building
SHARE Four major Chicago arts organizations receive Wallace Foundation grants to study audience building

Four Chicago performing arts organizations — the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Victory Gardens Theatre and Lyric Opera Chicago — are among 26 such entitites nationwide selected to receive the New York-based 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 Goodman Theatre.

The Goodman Theatre.

The grant recipients 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.

In addition to the four Chicago arts organizations, the grantees include:

  • 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
  • La Jolla Playhouse
  • Los Angeles Philharmonic
  • 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
  • University Musical Society, Ann Arbor
  • 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, in a prepared statemet. “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 includecommissioning 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 through both broadcasting performances and collaborating with 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.

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