Audience development needed for audience development and classical music

This past Saturday, I was a part of CU’s (University of Colorado in Boulder) Entrepreneurship Center for Music’s 2010 Fall Intensive: Engaging Your  Audience workshop series.   These workshops were for musicians in their school of music programs as well as for the community at large.  The director announced that with a student body just shy of 600 students, he was happy to report that a little under 3% is in attendance.  This translated to about 15-20 students/community members.  I definitely am saying “hats off” to these dedicated people that gave up their Saturday to attend 4 workshops about audience development.  However, wait a minute, only 15-20 attendees?

Yes, I realize in marketing speak, this is a good percentage, but in audience development speak for the arts, for classical music, this is a very bad percentage.  Only 15-20 people care enough about building audiences and care about the future of classical music? Aren’t we in a big debate right now about how to increase audiences for classical music since it is dire that we establish bigger and better audiences for our futures?

I know I may be one of the advocates for audience development that continually shouts from the rooftops that audience development is important to the arts, but I am now completely aware that we need a larger group of people to jump on the rooftops with me.  Audiences will not build themselves (with the exception of extremely high quality, new offerings that get buzz).  Since audiences will not build themselves, don’t you think we need to learn more about audience development and how to engage your audiences- how to get them more involved?  Well then, we need to start taking the opportunities to learn when they come.

Maybe it was the all day Saturday format that drove away potential attendees.  Maybe the word was out there, just not out there enough.  The cost was right, only $25/$35 for the entire days worth of workshops – cheap and cost effective education!  I think we need to excuse the excuses.  Right now, in my mind, there should be no excuse for not attending workshops of this nature if we want to turn around and build audiences for classical music.

We can blame the economy, the elite-isms, the cost, and the marketing all we want for poor audience attendance numbers, but I am putting it out there right now, I am pointing the finger at  the musicians and organizations themselves for not learning how to build audiences and how to engage with their audiences (exceptions to the people that are taking a proactive approach). Currently, consultants, workshops and mini-articles are what we have to learn from; there are no books on the market that dive deeply into the how (I’m working on it and cross your fingers for December!).

I am putting a challenge out there to all artists.  If you see a workshop, lecture, etc about audience development or about how to engage your audience, for the sake of building your audience, go!  If you want attendance and loyal arts patrons, you need to attend!  Take back the power to make a difference in your world instead of hoping and praying things will change. Continue to discuss solutions and educate yourself on the subject.  Until we all take responsibility for building relationships with our audience, classical music (the arts in general)  will continue to be too “elite” for the masses.

In the near future, I will blog about the actual workshops themselves.  I dedicated my time to go to each one and learn from my colleagues.  There were incredible offerings during the day to take away and implement into our own plans for audience building and engaging.  Stay tuned!

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists
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“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

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Filed under arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

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