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Arts groups finding new income streams

By Michael J. Solender
Correspondent

Arts organizations must adapt to changing audience needs, innovate in program/product offerings and look to new ways to make charitable giving more engaging or face extinction, says Richard Evans of EmcArts, a New York City-based arts organization consulting firm.

Evans made his comments to participants Saturday at the National Arts Marketing Project Conference hosted by Americans for the Arts and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council.

More than 600 people attended the conference at the Westin Charlotte.

Evans’ points were reiterated by ASC President Scott Provancher, who told the group about the micro-giving online site, Power2Give.org. Provancher said the site was designed to tap into the 80 percent of arts patrons who don’t contribute in giving campaigns.

In accessing a centralized project-based site for philanthropic giving, people can better see the impact of their donations, said Provancher. He mentioned Discovery Place’s successful campaign to get money to buy a snake for an exhibit.

“How great for a parent to say to their child, ‘We helped buy that snake’ while visiting Discovery Place,” said Provancher, in explaining the appeal of targeted fundraising.

“Traditional corporate giving campaigns are not a sustainable model for arts funding,” he said. “More than $600,000 was raised for Charlotte arts organizations through Power2Give’s first year.”

The program has since expanded to seven cities across the country.

Challenging status quo assumptions about audience engagement, reengineering the theater experience and free beer were all elements in successfully growing new audience and sponsors for Denver Center Theatre Company.

Charlie Miller, the organization’s co-curator of their Off-Center @ the Jones experimental theater, shared how his organization tackled the challenge of tapping into a new, younger theater-goer while maintaining the brand identity of the established parent company.

“Research and development spending in the for-profit world is a given and a dedicated portion of most organizations’ expenditures, but in the nonprofit arts world it is practically nonexistent,” said Miller, whose team participated in an extensive series of development sessions where traditional assumptions about theater experiences were challenged and tossed aside.

Through experimentation and bringing different kinds of performance to their stage – including turning it into a “baseball park,” where the audience played with simulators – Off-Center struck an engaging chord with its new audience who became vocal advocates and used social media to promote the new experiences. Younger audiences brought new sponsors, including Molson Coors, which provides free beer at select performances.

“Don’t underestimate the power of free beer,” said Miller.

This article is part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
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