Can It Happen Everywhere?

As I was perusing on Tuesday, I came across a link to an article covering the Knight Foundation’s final report on their Magic of Music Initiative.

I have read earlier installations of this initiative and did an entry on Penelope McPhee’s remarks at an initiative retreat in 2002. What got me to read the final report sooner than later was a section of the news article that said that the final report concluded:

Free events drew crowds, but attendees did not later shell out money for tickets. Nor did the bountiful numbers who attended off-site concerts later patronize the box office. Outreach programs to new audiences also failed to get people to buy tickets.

What I wanted to know was is it the free events, off-site programs and outreach programs that don’t work or is it that people weren’t interested in buying tickets to the symphony but might do so for theatre or dance.

Long story short, the report doesn’t really say because none of those surveyed were asked questions which might reveal if different attitudes toward dance and theatre might exist. I suspect, however, that it might be that people don’t like the symphony. The study reports that large numbers of people regularly listened to classical music, but “did not consider the concert hall the preferred place to listen to it. The automobile was the single most frequently used venue for classical music, followed by the home.”

Absent a similar study for theatre and dance, it is difficult to say that it is the concert hall environment and not the prospect of having to pay that is the barrier to attendance.

One thing I did see as encouraging was the finding that “…only 6 percent of those interested in classical music considered themselves very knowledgeable about it, while more than half described themselves as “not very knowledgeable.” Still, it gave them enjoyment.”

I don’t quite know how to constructively exploit this attitude yet, but I find it heartening that people aren’t reluctant to experience something they don’t completely understand. They may not feel confident or even interested in going to see a performance at a concert hall, but people are actively choosing to listen in their cars and homes despite a perceived unknowable quality.

The road to converting people to paying attendees might run through paid performances in a different setting or context preceded by marketing with a message to visit our website or come talk to our trained volunteer staff who will help make you feel competent in a low intimidation environment. And I say this in connection with all arts disciplines, not just classical music.

There is huge amount of interesting stuff in this report. I am not going to go in depth with a discussion because Drew McManus has mentioned he was going to talk about it and I daresay he will do a better job of it than I would. I am sure he will touch upon how the near impossibility of getting the musical directors involved essentially hobbled the initiative right from the start. (But if he doesn’t, now you know a little about it and should read the final report.)

In the interests of getting people to take a look at the final report, I will say that the process the Knight Foundation went through to initially solicit proposals and the mistakes they realized they made in the timing and format of their RFP is fascinating. I also have only touched upon about 1/10th of their findings and mentioned nearly nothing about the successful and interesting things some orchestras did.

Yeah, the report is about 50 pages long (with lots of large pictures) but there is much to ponder. You may not feel you have time, but commit to reading 5 pages of text a day and you will be done in a week or so.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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