Audience development for the arts – going beyond mass engagement

I am delighted to see more debates happening in regard to “engaging” with audiences.  Engaging your audience seems to be the catch effort of the day for building audiences.  “You must engage your audience.”  What does this mean exactly?

I see efforts for getting the audiences participating more by clapping along to the music, voting for encores, and attending lectures about the performances.  These efforts definitely can add enjoyment to the experience, but for true audience development, it’s best to begin engaging with them as individuals.

As I have been mentioning, engaging your audience using a mass effort does not necessarily mean that your audience member is becoming more involved.  They may enjoy the event more, but are they moved enough to volunteer, donate, spread the word, or potentially become a committee or board member for your organization?  This is where mass engagement can fall flat on two levels.

1. These efforts do not take the individual audience member into account.  The audience is still seen as a big group, not as individual people.

2. These efforts can be seen as what the organization is doing for themselves – in our age of transparency, audience members will know that these efforts may not be truly for them.  They see that you are trying to engage with them, but on your terms, not theirs.

The next level of engagement allows the individual audience member to participate by engaging back during a group effort.  These efforts do get the audience member a little more involved, such as during talk-back sessions, individually interacting with an audience member during the performance, and asking their opinions on surveys.  However, even though an individual participates, these interactions may still be run from the organization’s view point and still be seen as a mass engagement effort for a group of people.

In order to go beyond mass engagement, you will need to start developing relationships with individual people and begin creating programs and efforts with your audiences so their view points are in the mix.  This process does take more time and effort, but if we want a healthier arts world, it’s time to come full circle and have the audience play their part again. You want your audiences to become more engaged with you too, right?  This can lead to them individually becoming more involved with supporting your organization.

I will end here so my Monday Moment does not become more than a moment, but if you have any questions, comments or feedback, please do post in the reply section. 

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“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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