Insert Your Discipline Here

As I was re-reading the Knight Foundation Magic of Music report last week as part of my entry and comments on Bill Harris’ Facilitated Systems blog, I realized there were a few topics I wanted to address.

Back in November, my entry on the report essentially deferred to my assumption that Drew McManus could provide greater insight than I could on the subject. As I expected, he wrote two entries with some great analysis.

However, it is a long report with plenty to comment on. One part of the report that seemed pertinent to the arts world in general was the “Lessons Learned” section on pages 49-50. The problems facing the orchestra world seemed to be the same faced by all the arts disciplines. In some cases the problem may not be as extreme for other disciplines as it is for orchestras, but is still something that bears scrutiny and effort for improvement.

Though summarizing a summary doesn’t do much justice to the material, I wanted to cite the lessons here in the hopes that arts leaders will be inspired to tackle some of the issues in upcoming seasons and set things in motion now with staff before summer vacation dilutes ambition.

As I said, replace “orchestra” with your discipline and see if it doesn’t ring true even a little bit.

1) The problems of orchestras stem not from the music they play but from the delivery systems they employ.

For orchestras the problem lies in the fact many people enjoy listening to classical music but don’t see any attraction at the concert hall. Part of the problem for all disciplines might be, as Andrew Taylor suggested awhile back, that audiences are less interested in being relegated to a passive role.

2 The mission of an orchestra needs to be clear, focused and achievable. An orchestra can no longer afford to promise all things to all people. A mission
statement that promises a world-class touring and recording ensemble,
extensive local outreach, broad public-school education,…may be promising far more that it can deliver and end up doing many things badly.

3 Orchestras that are not relevant to their communities are increasingly endangered. …The more orchestras peel off 3 to 4 percent of an economically elite, racially segregated fraction of the community, the less they contribute to the vital life of a community.

4 Transformational change in orchestras is dependent on the joint efforts of all members of the orchestra family – music director, musicians, administration, and volunteer leadership and trustees.

This last one seems to echo a sentiment on Donor Power blog-“Marketing-No Longer a Department” Where the point is that everyone involved needs to be part of creating the story about the organization that is appealing to the patron and donor and not assign those functions specifically to a department. (And those departments can’t reserve those functions for their exclusive use.)

5 No single magic bullet will address the many serious problems that orchestras face.

Says it all. (Though the report says more if you are of a mind to read it!)

The next three were pretty fascinating. The implications of Nos. 6 & 7 may cause you to reconsider assumptions you hold about the effectiveness of similar programs you offer.

6 Free programming and outreach do not turn people into ticket buyers. If the Knight program dispelled one myth, it was the long-held axiom that the way to develop new ticket buyers was to give them free tickets or programming. Free and subsidized outreach can be valuable for its own sake and is part of an orchestra’s service to its community. But it is not a technique to market expensive tickets. Similarly, new audiences can be attracted to orchestra programs using various methods. Yet there is little evidence to suggest that significant numbers of them can be retained without more sustained followup strategies.

7 Traditional audience education efforts, designed to serve the uninitiated, are often used primarily by those who are most knowledgeable and most involved with orchestras.
Over and over again, Magic of Music orchestras chose to abandon programs designed to attract new audiences because it was the subscribers who took advantage of them.

8 There is a lot of evidence that participatory music programs – including instrumental lessons and choral programs – are correlated with later attendance and ticket buying at orchestral concerts. Traditional exposure programs, such as orchestras’ concert hall offerings for children, seem to have little longlasting effect on later behavior.

The meaning of the statistics cited to back this up in a earlier part of the report was the crux behind the questions I posed Bill Harris. I don’t believe anyone I have spoken/written with on this point felt that experiential education was going to guarantee increased attendance down the road. My feeling is that this does support the idea that we should have music/dance/theatre in the schools because it makes people more positively disposed toward the arts later in life.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this finding meshed exactly with education studies that conclude things learned through experiences are more strongly retained than things learned through more passive methods like pure lecture.


9 Orchestras need to do more research on those who do not attend their concerts. Despite extensive research conducted on audiences and people who have been audience members, orchestras do very little research on nonattenders…

Some logic behind this. You need to not only know why people are attending but why others are not. The report openly admits that this is a costly proposition and really only viable with resources like those possessed by large institutions and foundations.

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.


1 thought on “Insert Your Discipline Here”

  1. Joe, I really liked the way you framed this today. I’m wondering if your points also apply to organizations outside the arts business—consultancies, perhaps! 🙂

    As for point 8, the statistical question, while my posting suggests the 74% number one is led to take away from the Knight Report may not mean what one thinks it does, my calculations do suggest that such early performance experience is correlated with an approximate doubling of the probability of someone attending orchestra concerts in later life. That does seem worth doing.


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