Performing arts organizations seek the next generation of patrons
By Patricia Pickett
In the last two decades, Hamilton County’s quality of life quotient has risen considerably as leisure activities like parks, shopping and entertainment have burgeoned at a remarkable rate. Klipsch Music Center rose from the cornfields like a beacon to touring musicians as “Deer Creek” in 1989; with much fanfare and some controversy, The Center for the Performing Arts -- including the palatial Palladium -- opened in 2011.
These venues filled the void for Hamilton County residents seeking national touring acts and high-caliber entertainment in close proximity to their homes.
But then comes the tenuous job of cultivating audiences and filling the seats. It’s the business of the arts.
According to local arts leaders, it’s a bit of a balancing act: While nurturing the patrons who regularly purchase season tickets and may even be donors, there’s the simultaneous challenge of attracting new audiences, including millennials. Add to the mix the national trend of the traditional “season subscription” lessening in popularity – with so many choices, audiences don’t want to commit to an entire season.
Much like their business counterparts, arts organizations are constantly on the hunt for customers. According to Mark Truett, vice president of marketing and communications for The Center for the Performing Arts, it really comes down to programming followed by reaching potential ticket buyers.
“It’s about making sure we’re programming relevant content,” said Truett, who joined The Center earlier this year. “We have our core constituency of ticket buyers and want to provide what they are looking for and meeting our mission. But there’s no doubt that the millennials are our next-generation audience, and we need to connect with them as well.”
According to a 2016 survey of 25 arts organizations throughout the country conducted by the Wallace Foundation, there are four success factors in growing a millennial audience.
- Dispel their perceptions of ticket prices which they believe are much more expensive than they are in reality
- Create experiences that challenge them emotionally and intellectually, encourage self-discovery, and offer them a release from the stresses of everyday life.
- Create social experiences.
- Create “buzz worthy” experiences they can share with friends via social media
As the newly appointed Music Director and Maestro of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Janna Hymes is familiar with these trends. A guest conductor for orchestras throughout the country as well as serving as music director for the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra (WSO), she points to a performance of Star Trek music that orchestra will be performing this season. “A friend’s adult son came up to me and was so excited … we’re doing it four times, and he’s coming to two shows,” she said.
In another programming twist, when Williamsburg audiences were treated to violinist Elena Urioste, the WSO tapped into her “Intermission” yoga program and hosted a yoga class the Friday evening before the concert.
“It just created an amazing vibe with not just the musicians, but the community as a whole,” said Hymes. “It underscores what I believe about performing arts. It is an integral part of the community. The arts give the community a heartbeat, provide economic growth and bring in fascinating people. That’s a much bigger story than, ‘Hey did you hear Beethoven on Saturday?’”
As Hymes begins her tenure with the CSO, she says her challenge will be discovering what makes Carmel and the surrounding community tick and programming accordingly. “One thing I know is that Carmel has one of the most beautiful halls I’ve ever seen,” she said. “We’ve been able to create a palpable ‘buzz’ in Williamsburg, and I know we can do the same in Carmel.”
Once the programming is solid and attractive, then comes the task of reaching audiences. For The Center, each program has its own micromarketing plan, targeting those most likely to purchase tickets. Gone are the days of a simple massive direct mail by zip code and a full-page ad in the Sunday paper, according to Truett.
“It’s about finding our audiences and gaining their attention. That means we’re still doing direct mail and print advertising, because there’s a chunk of our audience for whom that is still appropriate, but we are also using tactics like geofencing to target potential audiences.”
Geofencing reaches a targeted audience through the use of GPS or RFID technology that triggers a response when a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area. This plays well into the latest research that indicates the “see-it-three-times” rule has run its course. “We have become much more cognizant about what we are doing and who we are trying to reach,” explained Truett. “It’s not just the millennials … in general, people need to see information six to 12 times just to retain it.”
Truett’s also aware of the overall audience experience once they commit to attending a show. “They can come here and see an amazing show, but if they can’t get out of the parking garage or don’t find the box office friendly, it can taint the whole experience.”
While Truett is directly responsible for “The Center Presents” series held between The Tarkington, The Palladium and The Studio Theatre at The Center for Performing Arts, he’s also very cognizant that the success of the independently managed resident companies is important as well. Residents include Actors Theatre of Indiana, Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, Central Indiana Dance Ensemble, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre and Indiana Wind Symphony.
“It is important that we collaborate as a whole,” he concludes. “While there is some competition for audiences, it’s a situation of a rising tide raises all ships. When one organization is successful in attracting audiences, we all benefit.”