Occupy Concert Halls, but find some parking first!

Sorry, no convenient parking so I can't see you!

So, a recent piece at Fast Company takes a more sophisticated and nuanced look at audiences for Orchestras.  The bottom line?  Parking!

No, that’s not the only bottom line, but in the case of  the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the trend was that those who are regular and long-time subscribers rather than ‘trialists’ rate the quality of the costumer experience higher than the quality of the Orchestra, Hall or even Conductor.  Parking was one on the list, as is the ability to get a refund or exchange (or the lack of it as the case may be).

The symphonies compiled a list of 78 attributes of the classical music experience, from the architecture of the hall to the service at the bar to the availability of information on the Internet. Using online surveys and other techniques, the list was whittled down to 16 factors with the greatest impact on attendance.

Horns and strings! It turns out the quality of the orchestra, magnificence of the hall, and virtuosity of the conductor were not particularly important attributes. What was? Drum roll! The most powerful “driver of revisitation” was parking! As with other orchestras, veteran members of the core BSO audience had figured out where to park, but trialists identified it as a huge hassle–so they didn’t come back. Another driver was the ability to exchange tickets; trialists found the “no refunds, no exchanges” policy a deal breaker.

Read the piece (link above).  I think it’s a good sign that folks are looking outside of the supposed ‘decline of classical music’ for systemic problems that may have next to nothing to do with the appeal of the product or which may affect the decision to go see the product.  As I’ve been thinking about the idea of audiences lately (spurred on primarily by a spate of posts by Greg Sandow) I find this a very refreshing take on how the environment surrounding these organizations can have as much to do with the choice to patronize them as anything else.

It’s not simply the decline of the artform, but a decline of the audiences for the artform which may or may not have anything to do with the artform’s decline. Which, as the studies state, isn’t the case when you look at Arts Participation from well outside of the idea of just going to ‘benchmark-events’ to see that as far as Classical music is concerned, folks are leading the way in online participation.

And obviously, as the audience for non-Western Orchestras grow, it will be interesting to see if some of these same issue plague that demographic as well!

Cultural Diversity and the Arts in America

I’ve just re-read Robert Garfias public policy piece, Cultural Diversity and the Arts in America (1989), and still find it a fascinating and prescient read.  I had first come across Garfias’ work through another paper he had written (1981), but the former resonated very much with what I’ve been researching and blogging about lately.

And while many of the things he called regarding arts institutions in this country haven’t really changed, what has changed is the proactive stance many ethnic minorities have taken with regards to their own arts.  This paragraph in particular could have been taken out of my own life story growing up here in the states:

The reasons are complex, but in essence for these new immigrants, the environment has initially appeared very hostile. At almost every furtive foray into the larger unknown territory, their initial perception has been further reinforced. Everything they see around them appears to reject who they are.  The contrast between the comfortable support of their community and the hostility and lack of acceptance on the outside makes all but the very necessary excursion into the exterior uninviting.  Our concert halls, museums and galleries which for us represent an aspect of our lives which we deeply cherish and need, reflect for these large communities of immigrants, even more pointedly, the very same hostility and unwelcomeness which they experience when they must venture out.  Here, even more so, our art institutions seem to say that “you must belong here to enter” and “you must know what you are doing here”.  For these new immigrants and a good number of other diverse ethnic groups in America there is little or no incentive to meet this challenge.  To them our open doors appear as tightly shut as ever.  The apparent hostility of our arts institutions to the non initiated is, most unfortunately, something vividly clear to those outside and at the same time something unimaginable to those working within the institutional network structure.

In the end, I did opt for assimilation into the dominant arts culture which was made all the easier as I didn’t have a large community of Thais in the area.

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