I have seen two more news stories about symphony orchestras going bankrupt. What in the world is happening? We could say this is a case of audiences no longer relating to these bigger organizations and how they function and present their art. Times are changing and the ways that audiences want to participate and become more a part of the arts could be a big piece of the puzzle. I do not feel it is due to humans no longer relating to the art itself, which has been proven is not the case.
In my humble opinion, it is the fact that these bigger organizations are functioning using old school management and marketing, and they have yet to switch to a new audience development mentality. I see that some of these organizations have 10-20 people on their marketing staff and on their development staff. It is not the case that they do not have the capacity or people power. I have seen organizations with less than 6 people on their staff use audience development effectively. I believe the problem lies with the fact they refuse to shift and change with the times.
The other piece of this puzzle is the hush-hush nature of how these organizations are being run. They refuse to be transparent, and when they are in the beginnings of needing help, they do not allow their audiences to be a part of the solution. Instead they continue to hide behind the mask of “everything is fine” and continue to clunk along using the same old methods that they have been operating with for decades.
When it comes down to the wire, the last leg moments of functioning, this is when these organizations divulge the information that they are in serious trouble. The media is more than happy to show how dire the situation is for these organizations, and there is hardly a positive leg to stand upon. I admire the late turn-around spirit that some of these organizations are attempting to promote, but in many cases, it might be a little too late to get these massive ships to turn-around. The iceberg was spotted long ago, but now they do not have enough time, and the impact sinks these organizations like the Titanic.
The good news is that like a phoenix, new organizations rise from the ashes, and hopefully with this renewal will come a new mentality, an audience development mentality of working with your audiences to build better arts organization.
We no longer can ignore our audiences or give them what we think they want. They want to be included, and they want us to be more responsible and accountable when they do give us their support. They provide us our livelihoods. We owe them the best in return. There should be no more excuses. If you are a bigger organization, you have the capacity. It is time to shift your presumptuous operations mentality to a mentality that builds relationships and partnerships with your audiences. Please do so as soon as possible so you will not become another Titanic in the sea of dead arts organizations.
PS This is a generalization. There are bigger organizations that are doing well and have changed with the times. They serve as wonderful examples for all of us.
Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Audience Development Specialists
“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”