Info You Can Use: Talking To Strangers

The recent NEA report on why people don’t attend arts and cultural event mentioned not having someone to attend with was a barrier to entry. Daniel Pink recently tweeted a story that gave me an idea for alleviating that issue.

Seats on buses in Brazil are being reserved for “making new friends.” You sit in the seat if you are open to having a conversation with strangers. There are Post-It notes attached to the Reserved Seating signs with conversation starters provided.

Even though the content of this video is in Portuguese, I am pretty sure no translation is necessary-

The application for arts organizations is probably pretty evident. Reserve some really great seats at an attractive price for people who are open to having conversations with strangers.

You would want to sell them individually so friends couldn’t grab them themselves or at least sell them in odd numbers if you think you can trust two people who are acquainted to include the individual sitting next to them in a conversation.

The museum version might be having stickers people can wear or a bench at which people can wait in order to pair/group with like minded strangers and wander the galleries together.

Like the bus program, you can provide conversational prompts that are both generic ice breakers as well as specific to the event people were attending.

But don’t hand the ice breakers out to participants at the box office. Having little signs and Post It prompts attached to the backs of the seats in front of the participants is a good way of promoting the program and it gives other passersby an opportunity to grab some questions for themselves.

If you can provide an after event socialization opportunity in the lobby, local restaurant or bar, so much the better.

And if you can provide discounted tickets for a year to anyone who participated in your “Make New Friends” program, even if they only come back alone, that would be really great!

Having to increase the number of seats available to your “Make New Friends” program because former participants kept returning in order to extend their year of discounts wouldn’t be the worst problem to have.

Having them return with their newly made friends is no problem at all.

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.


3 thoughts on “Info You Can Use: Talking To Strangers”

  1. To avoid the “friends buy together” problem, you could sell the seats in order skipping seats on the first pass. (So if row is 1-2-3-4-…) you sell the odd seats in increasing order and don’t sell any even seats until all the odd seats are sold. Downsides: 1) if you don’t sell all the seats in the section, then some people will be sitting alone. 2) a large enough group could buy out the section (so make the discount the same as the discount you would give a large group).


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