Salvador Acevedo

Not long ago, I attended the presentation of a fellow audience researcher, who put in numbers what we have known already for a long time: there is a negative growth of current audiences in the next generations. This means that in the near future there will be fewer people who fit the profile of current arts audiences. In other words, we are running out of audiences who look like the ones we are engaging now. It is not only the fact that audience participation is decreasing among typical audiences, it is also that there are less people who fit that profile in our societies.

Knowing this, diversifying your audiences as a strategy for audience engagement and growth becomes more important than ever before. In my opinion, it is not only important, but rather it is a matter of sustainability. The argument that arts and culture organizations have had since the '70s about audience diversification now becomes a financial one. The last census results are here and, even though there are not really any big surprises, the main message is that it is even more urgent to start addressing issues of ethnic and cultural diversity in our institutions.

Some examples: the Asian population is the fastest growing ethnic group in the nation, Latinos are very close to being the majority in the state of California, making it the first state with an ethnic group other than white (non-Latino) as majority, families with parents of the same gender are on the rise, and our communities look more like “Glee” than “The Brady Bunch” (an apology for the cheesy analogy!).  More importantly, these populations are growing in purchasing power, political influence, educational attainment, etc. making them more and more similar to most current audiences, except that their ethnic and cultural identification is very different. Yet, every arts and culture organization that I know have single digit participation from ethnic and cultural minority groups.

There are two kinds of arguments for diversification: the “it is the right thing to do” argument, which is philosophically based and the one that most staff and boards from arts and culture organizations identifies with. The other one is the “financial” argument, which focuses on the economic stability of the institution in the long term: we need to engage diverse audiences now in order to ensure a smooth transition as demographics change.

The sports industry learned this long time ago. Both arguments are powerful and necessary, yet the financial one is seldom used. If you do not make the financial argument at your institution, you are risking its financial health in the future. We need to make the financial case along with the mission case and start putting money for diversification in our budgets, otherwise we are going to wake up in twenty years and find out that everything has changed and we were not prepared to act on that change. We all know that what goes in the budget is what we are going to be working on.

Salvador Acevedo will be presenting at the 2011 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, June 16-18. Register today to continue the conversation in San Diego!


I have worked with lots of arts organizations, and not a single one of them is opposed to diversification. However, most of them define "diversification" as programming something by an Asian playwright or Latino composer and wondering why new audiences don't rush through the door. True diversification is a scary prospect, one that requires fundamental changes to all aspects of the organization. If we are truly diversified, we can't have all middle-aged white people sitting on our boards. We can't continue to maintain practices ranging from where we perform to how we sell our tickets that are currently comfortable primarily for wealthy people.

To me, budgeting for diversification is less about marketing techniques and more about research that tells us what we need to do and how we need to change in order to truly be comfortable for diverse audiences. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I know that there are some organizations that would literally rather die than make the necessary changes. That's okay too, if they go into it with their eyes open.

I concur totally.

Coming from the corporate business planning world but also providing support to arts groups, I believe that the financial perspective - along with the customer, internal business process and learning & growth perspectives of the well-known Balanced Scorecard methodology from the Harvard Business School (Kaplan & Norton) - is equally critical.

It actually helps to create the appropriate dialogue and debate to establish strategic objectives for how the organization wants to be seen by its "shareholders" (stockholders, community, government, patrons) and from there gets into the strategic objectives of how the organization needs to be seen to "customers" in order to loosen the cash from their pockets, budgets, etc. And so on into determining which internal processes it will excel at (e.g., services, productions) and how the organization needs to grow in terms of products, processes, technology, people, culture, etc.

Anyway, like your points very much.

I spent several years working in the arts community of my local hometown as a director of marketing and public relations. I think the real issue is reaching out to children of all ethnicities. I propose the following: Let’s start with children.

Unfortunately, when school systems are strapped with tighter and tighter budgets, the first curriculum to be abandoned is art. Growing this audience is, of course, a long-term solution but well worth the effort.

Not only is the next generation the fertile ground for audience growth, it is also the springboard for the people who will become the next board of directors, donors, subscribers, volunteers and avid theatre goers.

Recognizing that the public school system is not or cannot develop this knowledge and interest within the next generation, then it is up to the arts community to embrace this educational undertaking.

A few avenues to successfully implement an arts educational outreach program include:
Provide special performances for students during the school day that can serve as a field trip. Tickets should be drastically reduced for these special performances so every student can afford to attend. Free tickets should be provided to teachers, chaperones and students who can’t afford the nominal fee. A before and after question and answer session serves as an outstanding opportunity to educate students. These types of performances have been knows to “pack the house.”

So, be prepared to deal with school bus parking which can be exceedingly problematic if not handled correctly.

Offer in-school performer educational presentations. This not only educates the students but also demystifies the performer and the discipline. Students then view the performer more as a friend, so to speak, and transforms their future attendances to the theatre into more of a personal experience.

Offer online basic educational classes. After a student has successfully completed the online class, offer free tickets to the theatre for a weekend evening performance. It not only gets the student in the door, it also captures up their parent, guardian or chaperone for a theatre experience.

Reach out to parents who home-school their children. This group of parent-educators quickly grasp onto educational field trip opportunities for their children. There are Websites where these parents exchange information. Post information regarding the arts educational outreach program offered.

This approach can reach children from all backgrounds.

Unfortunately, when school systems are strapped with tighter and tighter budgets, the first curriculum to be abandoned is art. Growing this audience is, of course, a long-term solution but well worth the effort.expert service uk

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Thee are many arguments going on since years regarding the diversification, and the most most important ones are given above. But i feel these financial arguments must not be done by people. As essayontime blogs suggests this can harm children mind set too.

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