How art institutions are changing their business model

Dan Gorenstein Jan 26, 2015

How art institutions are changing their business model

Dan Gorenstein Jan 26, 2015

New data from the National Endowment for the Arts shows attendance for operas, plays, dance and art museums continues to fall.

Just 33 percent of American adults report attending at least one those events in a year. And the people showing up are getting older to boot.

Through a series of reports, the NEA wants to give the industry some more insight into what consumers want, as more institutions are realizing if they want to keep the lights on, it’s time to change the business model.

For example, if you run a symphony, the business model used to be: play gorgeous, amazing music and your audience will come. That strategy doesn’t play anymore, says Brent Reidy with AEA Consulting.

“The reality is that decades ago and centuries ago, art was something that was closer to more people and we need to get back to a place where society understands our value and really embraces us,” he says.

With nearly a third of organizations in the red according to a 2013 survey, some art institutions are taking a closer look at their customers.

As many as 31 million Americans say several factorsincluding timekept them away from the opera, or a museum.

So institutions are getting out of the galleries and concert halls and making art more convenient.

At a subway stop in Chicago, the Chicago Opera Theater held a pop-up performance a few years back. In Detroit, weather-proof reproductions of masterworks were placed in neighborhoods. Another way to grow audience is bring new people in.

The Philadelphia Orchestra hosts PlayIN eventsreally jam sessionsoften at one of city’s premier venues. The talented and the beginners all come here to play with the orchestra’s world class musicians.

The idea is to win hearts and minds of people like Makeda Wubayeh, a 12-year old who is new to the scene. 

“Before today, I didn’t really think about coming here. But once I came here there was something about it that was special,” she says.

As important as the experience was for Wubayeh, it won’t pay the bills. For these landmark institutions, professional musician Stanford Thompson says artists must redefine their roles.

“Musicians are citizens and scholars,” he says. “They are artists. These are community leaders. I believe that they are educators, I believe that they are social workers in a way.”

Thompson says what will drive traffic to these institutions is when actors, singers and musicians start stepping off the stage and into struggling schools, to mentor students and teach them to find value in art. 

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