NEW YORK—Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet’s efforts to build and deepen relationships with audiences were highlighted in two national case studies released today by The Wallace Foundation.
The case studies, available online as part of the Wallace Studies in Building Arts Audiences series, include work completed by Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet during the Wallace Excellence Awards initiative, aim to generate effective audience-engagement practices that can be applied to arts organizations across the country.
“Like many other arts organizations, we felt uncertain about how best to utilize emerging technology to reach new audiences, deepen relationships with current audiences, and prioritize the excellent quality of our artistic productions,” said Kelly Tweeddale, Seattle Opera Executive Director. “Through our work during the Wallace Excellence Awards initiative, we were finally able to explore this outlet of communication, and the experience was transformative. Not only did we find new ways to invite our audiences into the creative process, we also found ways to overcome internal concerns about using technology to open up the creative process and strengthen cross-departmental collaboration.”
The new studies on Seattle Opera and PNB are part of a series of 10, overseen by Bob Harlow, a New York City-based market research expert. They provide more information about methods used by each organization, as well as results from the companies’ efforts to target specific audience segments.
The report on Seattle Opera is titled Extending Reach with Technology: Seattle Opera’s Multi-Pronged Experiment to Deepen Relationships and Reach New Audiences by Bob Harlow.
It describes the company’s four-year-long experiment to test what technology channels could help engage audiences. A simulcast of Madama Butterfly succeeded in bringing in audience newcomers, while other efforts, such as behind-the-scenes videos, helped enhance the experience of patrons who had an existing relationship with the company. One important lesson from the work was that effective strategies require the involvement not just of the marketing department, but of the entire organization.
Seattle Opera’s fellow McCaw Hall resident, Pacific Northwest Ballet, was included in a report called Getting Past “It’s Not For People Like Us”: Pacific Northwest Ballet Builds a Following with Teens and Young Adults by Bob Harlow and Tricia Heywood.
This report is a marketing strategy and research tool for businesses and nonprofits, and describes one of PNB’s projects that aimed to make ballet more accessible and exciting to teens and young adults. The company embarked on an ambitious mission to overhaul its external communications, website and social media, and introduced new programs to help millennial audiences find their place in the ballet world. Practices included sharing online behind-the-scenes videos of daily studio life; ramping up PNB’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest; and offering teen-only, exclusive previews of its Next Step choreographers. In four years, ticket sales to teens more than doubled, and ticket sales to young adults under age 25 rose by 20 percent.
“Pacific Northwest Ballet tackled an issue that institutions across the country are facing – how to create an environment that is welcoming and relevant to young people, and begin to plant the seeds for relationships with arts organizations that are sustained across all phases of life,” said Ellen Walker, Pacific Northwest Ballet Executive Director. “Wallace’s WEA initiative provided us with the resources we needed to determine what would resonate best with teens and young adults in Seattle – and the results were fascinating and, most important, actionable. We hope that this case study will help other organizations see the importance of evidence-based practice, and encourage organizations to learn about their local audiences.”
The health of arts organizations depends on cultivating new audience members who will form long-lasting relationships with the arts. Recognizing this, The Wallace Foundation funded the second of the two-phase, $45-million Wallace Excellence Awards (2006-2014) with grants to 54 visual and performing arts organizations in six cities. The commissioned case studies are in-depth examinations of 10 of the organizations and their audience-building projects. Based on an analysis of these 10 organizations, nine practices were identified that arts organizations can use to increase the chances they will succeed in engaging audiences. These practices are explained in the foundation’s recently-released publication The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences, also written by Bob Harlow.
“Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet developed innovative programs with great results, and we are pleased to share an in-depth analysis of their work with the rest of the field,” said Wallace Director of Arts Daniel Windham. “Our Wallace Excellence Awards initiative provided support for performing and visual arts institutions across the country to invest in the research and time required to think about long-term solutions to audience-building. We hope institutions in the Northwest and across the United States will use these reports as a springboard for their own innovative thinking.”
The 2014/15 Season in honor of Speight Jenkins
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 www.wallacefoundation.org, 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 to build their audiences.
About Seattle Opera
Seattle Opera is a leading opera company, recognized both in the United States and around the world.
The company is committed to advancing the cultural life in the Pacific Northwest with performances of the highest caliber, and through innovative education and community programs that take opera far beyond the McCaw Hall stage.
Each year, more than 95,000 people attend Seattle Opera performances and the company’s programs serve more than 65,000 people of all ages.
Seattle Opera is especially known for its acclaimed works in the Richard Wagner canon, and has created an “international attraction” in its presentation of Wagner’s epic Ring, according to The New York Times.
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