So, there seems to be a new discussion as of late to continue the debate about whether or not educational outreach programs are worth the time and effort for audience development purposes. I used to say hands down that they are, but now I am slowly leaning towards saying maybe they are not worth it, that is if they are not really audience development programs.
I have made a major discovery. If audience development is about building relationships with your audience, are you building relationships with the children of your community through your educational outreach programs? Mainly most educational outreach programs are “tastes” of the art, a little here and a little there to expose children to an art form. Now on one level, yes it is beneficial for the children, especially when added to a creative thinking lesson plan, but this type of marketing exposure is not going to translate into a slew of future patrons or “butts in seats.” There is a lack of follow through in this equation.
Now, true audience development is not butts in seats, but rather people in seats. The only way to obtain more people in seats that continue to come back time and again is to build relationships with them in one way or another.
Let’s put these two concepts together now. If audience development, true audience development, is about building relationships, the only way an educational outreach program would be successful in the future is if you add an element of building relationships with the children of your community. This means that you start to have conversations with them and get to know them as people. You will then be able to discover who the real arts lovers are. My 1st grade music teacher was a natural at this. She would notice when her kids were interested, and she developed a relationship with these kids (myself included). I was nurtured from that day forward for my love of the arts, and yes, I do buy tickets to a variety of arts offerings throughout the year.
In summary, educational outreach programs can be effective for both arts education and for the future of the arts, but only if they are initiated with a true audience development spirit – with the goal and the care to get to know the children of your community and to nurture them when they show a bigger interest in the arts.
Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Audience Development Specialists
“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”