On the positive side, what’s working right now…Audience Development

I found a fascinating article “Cutting the Arts…Midlands Groups Struggle Amid Declining Support” by Ron Aiken of the Free Times in Columbia,  SC.  He covered a discussion about the economic situations of various arts organizations in the area.

“Present for the discussion were Rhonda Hunsinger, executive director of the South Carolina Philharmonic; Morihiko Nakahara, music director of the Philharmonic; Ken May, deputy director of the S.C. Arts Commission; Jim and Kay Thigpen, owners of Trustus Theater; and Wim Roefs, board chairman of the 701 Center for the Contemporary Arts and owner of if ART Gallery.”

You can read the transcript of this discussion:  Read More

What I really wanted to point out was the end of the article, the question “FT: On the positive side, what’s working right now, what are some of the best practices to keep going?”

The answers were all about audience development.  I’m not even sure they understood that what they were saying was all about audience development, but I hope you will!

Rhonda Hunsinger: Doing things one person at a time, making those personal connections and continuing to reach out to new people every day, every week.

Ken May: The New Audience Road Show has really been a success for the arts commission. It’s targeted at ages 23 to 40, a class is selected of about 25 participants and once you join, you’re introduced to a handful of community arts organizations and have in-depth, behind the scenes experience before the experience of the show or concert or opening. You’re obliged to bring friends, and you then become the docent for that experience, and it’s working really well.

The first class has now sort of taken over ownership of the program and are essentially its board and managers. Next year the alumni will take it over almost completely. We’re working with a group in Charleston to get one going there and we hope to be able to franchise it all over the state eventually.

Rhonda Hunsinger: It’s not just about getting people in the door; we can do that. It’s about getting people engaged.

Ken May: It’s understanding who they are, what they care about.

Jim Thigpen: That’s the reason we’ve lasted 25 years. For 25 years, when they walk in that door, Kay gives them a ticket. I’m out there giving people a welcome and working the audience. People know who Trustus is and what it is and they feel a part of it, feel welcomed.

Ken May: They know who the “us” is in Trustus.

Until next time, may your audiences be happy and loyal ones, and if they are not, feel free to contact me!


Shoshana Fanizza is the founder of Audience Development Specialists. Her mission is to introduce artists and arts organizations to their existing and potential audiences and to help them to form more rewarding relationships.


Audience Development Blog

1 Comment

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One response to “On the positive side, what’s working right now…Audience Development

  1. Hi Shoshana!

    As the developer of the New Audience Road Show program, I can assure you that we all knew we were talking about audience development:) The
    SC Philharmonic and Trustus Theatre were both participating organizations in the Road Show program, and were chosen based not only on their artistic merit, but also on their impressive ability to grasp and incorporate the concepts of arts participation. We’re really focusing on that in South Carolina, where we’ve been part of the Wallace Foundation’s participation initiative. We’re happy to talk more with anyone who’s interested in what we’ve been learning. Thanks for covering this story!

    Katie Fox

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