audience development

We are already creating with our audiences. Now let’s do it better.

The arts are a very natural platform for creating with others. After all, what is a live performance but a natural coming-together of two partners, the performers and the audience? Inherently, these parties exchange energy, each bringing something valuable: the performers, their craft and their expression, and the audience, their receptivity, their openness to the experience that is unfolding.

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What’s an audience for?

A compelling artistic vision and a high-quality artistic product are absolutely fundamental to every successful artistic venture. If something incredible, transformative or exciting isn’t at the basis of what you do, you can forget about your ability to perform the other business functions effectively. (My mentor Michael Kaiser is 100% right about this). And most of what’s on stage – maybe not the details, but many of the broad strokes, such as the who, where, and what of the season – is an administrative exercise.

Where, then, does the audience fit in?

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The loyalty algorithm

Our work is about art – the essence of human expression, transmitted through a particular medium and shared with others. In my opinion, there could not be a more pure, transcendent, incredible field of work.

There are people who experience what we do one time and who instantly become lifelong champions of our work. But on the whole, loyalty is not linear.

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Audience development is not like The Lord of the Rings

If you aren’t familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, click here to catch up to speed.

Fast forwarding, according to Wikipedia, the translation of the inscription on the magic “one ring” created to dominate the land and the people is:

One ring to rule them all,

one ring to find them,

One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Darkness aside, this is not how audience development works. There is no “one ring” in our work.

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The definition of insanity

Today, performing artists and managers hear constantly about the importance of diversifying and developing new audiences for their work. In my opinion, this perspective comes from an attitude of lack, that there are not or could not possibly be enough people interested in what we do in order for us to keep moving ahead, to persevere in the long run.

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Do We Exist to Create or Share, and Who Is the End User?

In the arts, there are two key phenomena: the creation and the experiencing of the art. 

Artists are typically focused mainly on the creation of the art, and (usually) less so on the experiencing of the art. Their primary work is to transmute the pure creative potential of their vision into something more concrete, into a more tangible form. And often, as in the visual and performing arts, that form is intended to be shared, to be experienced by others.

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