Destroy Your Way To New Audiences

Have you been trying to attract new audiences to your organization but are at wits end to find productive programs? Have you tried open houses with barbecues, dinners before performances, cocktails after, ice cream socials, performance talks, tables at community street fairs, ticket give aways, donations to popular charities and pretty much everything inside out and in between?

How about renting a mobile shredder?

I will admit, this isn’t my idea. I saw a sign tonight inviting people to engage in some Spring cleaning and bring their sensitive documents to be shredded. While there people can participate in a potluck/streetfair type event.

It struck me that this is the type of community service an organization could offer that will NEVER in a million years show up on a survey as something you could do to help the community. It is one of those things people need but don’t realize they need when asked.

This is also the sort of thing that breaks down barriers to attendance. You advertise an open house barbecue picnic at your organization and as someone who has never been to an arts organization, I might figure the only difference between the picnic and attending a performance is good ribs. Faced with the prospect of being the only person there who doesn’t know how to speak theatre/ballet/classical music/visual art, there may still be a high anxiety factor even if I don’t have to go into the building.

A shredder truck in the parking lot on the other hand is a service I can actually use. While I am there, maybe I grab some hamburgers and look around a little. If things get a little uncomfortable, the shredder provides my excuse as I notice the line is getting shorter, excuse myself and go over there. Heck, there isn’t much danger in bringing the kids either. Even if the arts stuff doesn’t appeal to them, watching papers get consumed by a giant machine is always interesting.

In fact, if you plan some family friendly performances, be prepared to be upstaged by the shredder truck regardless of how positively inclined the parents might be toward you. All the moving parts may not be visible, but as we all know, imagination can be pretty powerful nonetheless.

The simple truth is that maybe people will come to your picnic, shred their papers and tour your spaces for five years before they show up to a performance or maybe they don’t ever come to a performance. The good will you generate and decreased intimidation factor of your building can manifest positively in other ways, including good word of mouth to other people.

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. (

I am currently the 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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