Tag Archives: arts conferences

You want young? Start listening! Audience development for arts conferences…

Due to funds, I am only able to go to one conference a year.  I hope this changes in the future.  I love being a part of conferences since the energy is contagious, and I am able to meet some fantastic people. If I were invited to speak at one of these conferences, I might have said…

Twitter has been so incredible for following conferences around the globe. Hashtags have become priceless in this respect.  I am glad I can be a part of the conference experiences, even if I am a fly on the Twitter wall.

The recorded keynotes have also been helpful.  Recently I was watching the final keynote for the League of American Orchestras conference, A Call to Action by Clive Gillinson. His actual speech begins about the 30 minute mark.  I loved what he had to say since it was forward thinking.  Become a part of the community and ask what you can do for them rather than what can be done for your organization, etc.  However, the delivery, the presentation and how he was dressed, was very formal and old school.  I tweeted that I wanted to see him in a Hawaiian shirt, or something equally bright to be in fashion with what he had to say.  I also have been thinking that in order to “get outside of the box,” perhaps we need to let our hair down more at these conferences instead of being so gosh darn formal.

Which brings me to the “You want young?” part of this post.  We all need/want younger audiences, right?  Many times, at these conferences, we hear from the older generations.  Very few conferences have younger speakers as a main event.  Are we listening to our younger generations?  Are we allowing them to get their viewpoint across to us?  If we want younger audiences, maybe we need to start listening to our younger participants.

This means that having a few keynotes presented by the younger generations would be most helpful.  I am all for learning from the experienced, but the younger generations have experiences to share as well.

In general, I do not feel we are listening to the younger generations as much as we could.  We attempt to figure out what they want, but are we really listening to what they want? Are we listening to their perspectives?

Perhaps we are afraid that what they want is something we would not like to offer.  Perhaps the older generation is afraid that they will no longer be valued if we allow younger generations time on the soap box.  These are fears we need to overcome if we truly want to be relevant to younger demographics.

GenY has personal experiences to share that are full of creativity and positive energy.  Why limit their share time to a breakout session?

GenX, being the oldest of the younger generations, has an interesting perspective and most are not afraid to share what they think.  They can be brash, but rather refreshing.  They can serve as a wake-up call if we allow them to speak to the general assembly.

The other younger generations rather participate than sit quietly with hands folded in their seats.  They will, however, listen to peers.

Conferences can be valuable for the sharing of new ideas, but in order for us to move forward, perhaps the conferences need to be more forward thinking in how they present and who is chosen to speak.  All generations have something special to offer.

I hope in the future to see more diversity in our conferences if this is what we are truly striving for. I am grateful to see some exceptions, but for the most part, older white guys are still ruling the roost.

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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Audience development and what I have learned over the vast arts weekend

This is not going to be the typical summary blog.  I was not able to attend any of the conferences this weekend, but was able to catch some of what was happening via Twitter and Livestream.  We had the TCG (Theatre Communications Group) conference and the AFTA (American for the Arts) conference this past weekend.  The following is my list of personal observations, rants and raves, and general comments:

  1. The TCG conference did a great job of communicating and inspiring excitement for the future.
  2. AFTA did have some good arts advocacy sessions which I hope gets transpired into action.
  3. The theatre community is excellent at discussing the issues and sharing them across the internet.
  4. The speakers hired for TCG were vibrant and inspiring.  The speakers at AFTA, I had a mixed reaction to.
  5. There was much talk about wooing the Millennials, but I felt that the GenX crowd is being squeezed out of the picture.
  6. Maybe I am wrong, but I noticed that Millennials and Boomers were hired for the most part.  We could use more GenX in the arts in general.
  7. The State of the Artist was a very interesting format at TCG, a variety of different presentations to give us the lowdown on what is happening.  The research regarding the statistics of how much an average artist makes, etc. was good to know.  However, many of us already know about these facts and figures since we live them.
  8. In general, I have heard some of the same discussions about our challenges before and have read about them from articles and essays from decades ago.  We need to start taking more action and quit talking about what is wrong.  We know what is wrong.  We live what is wrong.  It is time to make some changes so we can find out how to live what is right.   Money would be better spent on speakers that will present action oriented speeches, speeches that give take away lists for all of us to implement.  We need more idea/brainstorming sessions.  We need to instead of placing money on statistical research, fund more action oriented audience development projects.
  9. Some of the speakers were talking about audience development, but did not necessarily know it.  Nor did they get to the action part of audience development.
  10. People who know me will already know that I feel audience development and the action that is part of using it will help save the arts.  Yet, I am rarely seeing presentations that give the arts world a clue about how to use audience development.  I continually hear, “we need audience development,” but presenters are not hired to cover this need fully.
  11. Bigger organizations can help smaller organizations.  They only need to get past the fears so they can help their arts sector.  They will be helping themselves in the process.
  12. There is a great deal of fear when it comes to money.  Artists and organizations need to learn how to prioritize so the money that they do have is smartly spent, which will help alleviate some of this fear.
  13. There was a statistic that only a small percentage like 9-11% of funding comes from grants.  We are spending so much time and energy discussing the fact that these pots are being cut.  If 89% -91% of arts funding is from individual and corporate funding, how come we are not discussing how to secure this type of  funding more?  (Audience development helps secure this type of funding.  Let’s talk about audience development and how it can help increase this funding for you).
  14. Maybe I missed hearing about case studies, but I feel we need more of these at conferences.  We need to learn what is working and what is not working.  One of the best presentations I witnessed a few years back was when a theatre company presented how they do subscriptions.  They were wildly successful with subscriptions.  If subscriptions are dying out, how come this theatre company was doing so well?  (They didn’t know it, but it was audience development.)  We need to find out from each other how to be successful.
  15. In order to start helping each other out, we need to end the fears about competition.  We need to swallow our egos so we can instead create a healthy base for all arts.
  16. We need more advocacy for the arts.  It is not a matter of simply believing the arts needs more support, we need to as individuals start visually and verbally showing the world that we want more arts supports – more letters to media and our representatives, more physical badges online, more arts advocacy projects and events.
  17. I really wished I was hired for one or more of the conventions this year.  I do have something to share and hope I will be able to in the future.
  18. I was saddened over the weekend thinking about the shutdowns that have been happening.  There is an arts group in my own town, made the papers this morning,  that really could use some help in turning around.
  19. I am here wanting to contribute, but making less money than most artists and arts organizations.  If people do not start calling soon, ADS will need to close.  I have a feeling other audience development agencies, the few of us that are out there, are experiencing the same challenge.
  20. If consultants are making the money and the organizations/artists that they are helping are not, then you are hiring the wrong consultants.  The right consultants would make sure everyone is prosperous.  (This is in reply to a comment on twitter about how only consultants are making the money these days).
  21. Arts people in general have big hearts and want to make a difference in their world.  I hope that the solutions to the challenges presented come swiftly and that action is taken quickly to save the arts from falling even further than they have already.

If you need to build a bigger and better audience, if you need more financial support, if you are ready to learn and make the changes necessary using audience development action, please contact ADS.  ADS wants to help!

Phone sessions, group workshops, seminars and presentations, social/digital media packages – we are affordable and we help you make the changes needed so you can grow in a positive direction.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,


Shoshana Fanizza

Audience Development Specialists



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

~James Stewart


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