Arts Audience Development: Why some arts organizations succeed and why some fail…

This week I saw another article where an arts organization blamed their audience for the fact that they are closing their doors. “Low audience numbers,” they stated. It made me ponder what the real reasons were for the closing. Why were people not attending? There must be a reason(s), and it probably has something to do with how the organization was running.

I decided to put the question to my brilliant Twitter friends. Why are some arts organizations succeeding and why are some failing? Here is the story with a little help from Storify!

  1. Share
    Falling audiences kill off company #auddev needed!
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 11:27:00
  2. Share
    Hmmm… not sure we should keep blaming the audience for failing arts companies. It’s not the real reason! #auddev needed.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 11:28:01
  3. Share
    If an arts org has low audience numbers, what do you think is the reason behind this? Need feedback for blog.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:12:12
  4. Share
    Do you have thoughts about what makes some arts companies succeed and some fail? I’m working on a blog. #auddev #arts #2amt #nampc
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:01:37
  5. Share
    I keep seeing articles on how arts orgs say they are closing due to low audience numbers, but they never go further to say their part in it.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:11:18
  6. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec Knowing who your aud is and what you want to say to them. Understanding where you fit in the local&natl landscape. #success
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:03:14
  7. Share
    @melissaimpact I like it. Any thoughts on why some fail?
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:06:24
  8. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec @melissaimpact My guess is, ones who fail forget there’s any specific “them” to whom to say things.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:08:08
  9. Share
    @dloehr @AudienceDevSpec and who forget the importance of how that “them” changes over the years
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:13:14
  10. Share
    @dloehr @AudienceDevSpec As well as the importance of maintaining an intersect between “them” and “us”
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:14:00
  11. Share
    @melissaimpact @dloehr I’m actually hoping to go a little deeper than this. Why are they not going the extra mile to get to know their auds
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:14:18
  12. Share
    @melissaimpact @dloehr Is it they feel they don’t have the time? Is their money/efforts tied up in marketing?
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:14:56
  13. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec Programming or really bad marketing
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:15:05
  14. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec @halcyontony @artemis_selena @dloehr I hesitate to say “bad”– I’d say “uncontextualized.”
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:18:11
  15. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec I mean “bad” in the sense that it’s not interesting or not being seen. But it’s more likely the programming
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:16:55
  16. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec Things they’re interested in attending. If you don’t produce work the audience is excited about seeing they won’t come
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:29:40
  17. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec For example, the idea of seeing Crimes of the Heart or Steel Magnolias one more time makes me throw up in my mouth a little
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:30:26
  18. Share
    @artemis_selena That’s how I feel about seeing Phantom of the Opera every day in the news. Ugh!
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:30:56
  19. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec If you do work that excites people, that relates to them, that intrests them, you’ll never lack for audience.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:31:23
  20. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec think it usually boils down to either: lack of vision, lack of connection, or still building (if on a new path).
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:14:50
  21. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec @dloehr They don’t care; they don’t have a specific enough mission; or they think the answer hasn’t changed since 1971
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:17:11
  22. Share
    @halcyontony @AudienceDevSpec I would add to Tony’s comment focus on tactics rather than strategy(/vision)
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:17:42
  23. Share
    @melissaimpact @AudienceDevSpec All of the above, honestly.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:18:09
  24. Share
    @TRGArts @AudienceDevSpec dunno far too many arts orgs are doing the same things the same ways and getting the same results.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:18:31
  25. Share
    @halcyontony @TRGArts Maybe this is the problem. One-size does not fit all in terms of solutions.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:20:23
  26. Share
    @TRGArts @AudienceDevSpec a lot depends on the org though. Poor implementation can be tough to distinguish from lack of vision at times.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:21:11
  27. Share
    @halcyontony @audiencedevspec Exactly! It’s hard to turn away from tactics you’re used to even if they’re not working anymore
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:21:14
  28. Share
    @halcyontony @TRGArts This would be the management component I am thinking about. The implementation needs good management.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:21:42
  29. Share
    @halcyontony @TRGArts So you mean mundane in terms of vision. Just to clarify this thought.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:22:30
  30. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec @TRGArts generally.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:23:04
  31. Share
    @TRGArts @halcyontony Also, everyone needs to do their “jobs”.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:23:30
  32. Share
    @halcyontony @audiencedevspec Agree, and everyone in the org needs to be on board
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:22:43
  33. Share
    Agreed! RT @audiencedevspec: I think #arts orgs need to take more responsibility 4 their circumstances.It’s not the audiences’ fault.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:26:22
  34. Share
    @TRGArts @AllyYusuf_ True. It’s what I see though. The audience didn’t come. The audience didn’t respond. The audience…
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:28:43
  35. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec @AllyYusuf_ Well, where’s the good in blaming the audience?
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:27:58
  36. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec I’d say it’s because the artist has not engaged the audience to the point of drop everything to see this show.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:18:47
  37. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec Thanks. You can engage people, but it’s special artists that engage to the level of “drop everything.”
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:30:38
  38. Share
    @SoundSorceress So exploring the “how” to do this is the next step.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:31:27
  39. Share
    @audiencedevspec LOL. Ultimately, #arts orgs should provide an excellent product compelling messaging community focus 2 attract an audience.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 12:30:46
  40. Share
    @AudienceDevSpec Many multi-decade-old arts orgs here are still led by their founders. That contributes a great deal to inertia.
    Thu, Apr 26 2012 13:59:20
  41. Share
    @audiencedevspec Succeed vs. Fail: when arts orgs devalue their tickets w/ too many freebies, discounts, etc w/o collecting & using data
    Fri, Apr 27 2012 16:07:28

I would have to say in general that there needs to be more responsibility taken by the organization (artist) as to why they are not succeeding.  Simply blaming external factors is not going to allow us the ability to make positive changes.  This means that we need to be more honest with how we are running our businesses.  Typically, there are factors in how we are functioning that are contributing to low audience, low support monetarily or volunteer wise.  I would say that we need to take a good look at ourselves and our businesses if we want to discover the reasons as to why we succeed and why we fail.  The answers will be found, and we will be able to document what would be good to keep doing and what needs to be changed.  In the near future I will go into my list of “whys”, but until then…

What do think? 

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists


“Never treat your audience as customers, always as partners.”
~James Stewart

Although we are not a non-profit, if you would like to support ADS to continue our work, you can donate here.

My eBook

New eBook!  The How of  Audience Development for the Arts: Learn the Basics, Create Your Plan


Filed under Arts, arts management, arts marketing, Audience Development

2 responses to “Arts Audience Development: Why some arts organizations succeed and why some fail…

  1. For my email subscribers, I apologize for publishing via Storify since I did not have a chance to edit the post before it was sent out to you. Please do check out this post by clicking on the link to take you to the actual blog post. Thanks so much!

  2. For small arts organizations (primarily theatre companies, but not just those) in small rural or semi-rural areas, there is also the difficulty of reaching an audience that doesn’t want to see something they haven’t seen before, or are otherwise familiar with in some way.

    Why do you think Norm Foster does so well? Why do we see the stage version of the stories made famous in movies? Because they are a known commodity, and when you’re fighting against the tide of amateur sports and field work and stags & does, you must offer something that will make the would-be audience feel comfortable BEFORE they leave the comfort of their chesterfield & ice cold brew.

    As theatre professionals, we cannot ignore our responsibility to provide growth and education, with new playwrights, new productions, theatre arts programs for children & youth, etc. But as business people, we also have the responsibility to put bums in the seats and pay the bills.

    I worked with an AD once who blamed the marketing for the failure of audiences to come see a play that involved unmarried teenage sex and death. And that was the play that opened the season. I’m sure marketing was part of the problem, but I’m also sure that programming that play, in that community, especially as a season opener, had a lot to do with the audience numbers as well.

    (FYI, the following year, the same company – without that AD – scheduled one more play, so that all productions had shorter runs but much fuller houses, and put the “tough” play in the middle of the season. And the season ticket holders, who came because they already had the tickets even if they weren’t sure they wanted to see this show, were the best marketing voice that play had. Second week numbers were a huge improvement. Plus, the word of mouth for all the shows was very positive because the ‘feel’ of a fuller house for every performance.)

    Be brave, be inventive, reach out to new audiences, but do not forget for one minute who your audience is now, because they are the ones who still help you pay your bills.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s