There is a great challenge facing many traditional arts groups (Philharmonic, Ballet, Chorale and some non-contemporary art museums) today. Their most loyal fan base is growing increasingly older. As this group continues to age, they are less able to buy tickets and offer financial support. This is known as aging out.

Unfortunately, younger generations are not as engaged in the traditional arts due to lack of school programs plus a huge variety of entertainment and creative outlets thanks to new technology. Short attention spans, lack of motivation and loss of relevance makes this group hard to capture. The last thing cool to the young adult crowd is something their parents (or even worse their grandparents) enjoy.

Arts organizations have a Executive Director for leadership, Artistic Director for vision, Marketing Director to entice audiences and a Development Director to secure funding. The position that is missing, but essential for securing patrons for traditional arts organizations, is an Audience Development Director.

An Audience Development Director would work specifically to attract, engage and retain a younger demographic by influencing programing, planning events and creating marketing directed to a younger demographic. All this while not alienating the organizations core (older) supporters. Attention to creating new audiences will take a long time to see results, but will pay off in big ways.

There is an old saying “Never send a boy to do a man’s job”. Do not leave younger audience engagement to staff, board members or volunteers who cannot directly relate. You wouldn’t ask a teenager to plan a high tea for great grandmother, so do not let seniors plan engagement and communication for younger patrons. Develop these audiences with programing and events that make sense for their age group. Collaborate with young leaders and up-and-comers to create something attractive to this new crowd. A great example of how this is done is Overture, an audience development program administered by the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Associate Board.

Every great organization has highly trained and experienced professionals in every department. By adding an Audience Development Director to that mix, a traditional arts org. can meet the need for new/expanded patron base and public support. Without new audiences, these art forms will surely suffer. This type of market segmentation has been utilized by the advertising industry for years. Now is the time for the arts to do so as well.

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