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.