The Wallace Foundation has announced grants to twenty-six performing arts organizations in support of their efforts to design and implement programs to attract new audiences while retaining current ones.
Launched last fall, the six-year, $52 million Building Audiences for Sustainability initiative will work with a variety of organizations — from dance and opera companies to orchestras, theaters, and multidisciplinary arts institutions — to develop, implement, and learn from audience-building efforts. Strategies to be funded include the commissioning of new art that resonates 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 form being presented, and staging works in non-traditional venues that are more easily accessible to target audiences.
The participating organizations have annual budgets ranging from $1.5 million to more than $20 million and will receive support from the foundation to fund at least two “continuous learning cycles” of work. Over four years, grantees will develop and implement a new audience-building program (first cycle), study the results, and use the findings to implement a second cycle of programs. They also will receive funding to conduct audience research.
To ensure that the efforts of participants inform and strengthen the audience-building efforts of performing arts organizations nationwide, the foundation plans to commission an independent, $3.5 million study to assess whether participating organizations made audience gains, whether those 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.
"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 Wallace Foundation president Will Miller. "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 twenty-six organizations selected from a pool of more than three hundred 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."
For a complete list of the participating organizations, visit the Wallace website.