Wrapping up the Wallace Initiative

After four great years, we’re wrapping up the Bay Area Wallace Initiative.  We hope you’ll continue to find the resources collected on this blog valuable.  If you’re new here, a good place to start is the overviews of each year of the initiative:

You can also search the different categories to find information on our public workshops, research by Alan Brown and others, artist commissions and much more.

We’d like to leave with you with these thoughts  from Kary Schulman of Grants for the Arts, one of the lead partners in this project (adapted from her remarks at the Beyond Dynamic Adaptability conference) :

In this remarkable four year initiative over $6M went to 11 San Francisco organizations who made a commitment to engage more people deeply in the arts. And almost $1.5M came to The San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts to help many more organizations increase attendance and deepen public engagement.

When we started this program almost exactly 4 years ago: late October 2007, there were organizations which had no website, twitter was what birds did, “bloggers” were found late at night in their pajamas in their parents basements, Facebook had been available to the public for less than a year, and was still seen as a college thing,

“Audience development” was the term we all used when what we really meant was no more than “butts in seats” and the most prominent “audience engagement” technique was the after-show audience talk back. Which sent most audience members fleeing into the night.

And oh, incidentally, California had not yet officially been declared “majority minority”—that is a state where no racial, ethnic or cultural group had a majority of the population.

And also almost exactly, four years ago (December 2007 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research) the recession officially began.

But if the economy supplied the lemons, the Wallace Foundation supplied the sugar for our lemonade:

With a focus on new communication technologies and techniques, and on the changed demographics of the Bay Area, over the last four years The Bay Area Wallace grant:

  1. Awarded $50,000 in commissions to over 40 artists
  1. With our partner Theatre Bay Area, jumpstarted and subsidized the Big List, now the largest audience data base in the US.
  1. Developed a comprehensive Bay Area Arts guide calendar apps for iphone and android
  1. Subsidized two major area-wide conferences: Dynamic Adaptability in January 2010, and Beyond Dynamic Adaptability in October 2011.
  1. Created dozens of workshops, panels and hands on trainings on all aspects of engaging audiences reaching hundreds of organizations and thousands of participants
  1. Subsidized dozens of arts workers to attend conferences and professional development activities
  1. And most importantly, regranted almost half a million dollars directly to dozens of organizations through the NAMP boot camp and Leveraging Social Media projects.

The Wallace initiative was about giving you, the arts community, ideas and tools for engaging and entertaining your audiences and inviting them into fuller participation in your work.  The Bay Area arts community is now far better positioned to reach more people, engage them more deeply, and to share these strategies with others, despite the slings and arrows of outrageous recession, than we were in 2007.  We thank Daniel Windham and everyone at the Wallace Foundation for this investment in our community.

Making Sense of Audience Engagement from WolfBrown now available

Making Sense of Audience Engagement

A New Publication from WolfBrown


A new report from WolfBrown takes stock of the growing body of practice in the arts sector referred to as “audience engagement” – a bewildering array of programs and activities such as lectures, open rehearsals, docent tours and online forums – employed by arts groups to deepen participation and encourage repeat attendance.

To help make sense of this rapidly developing landscape, WolfBrown surveyed arts practitioners and conducted case study research on a wide range of engagement practices. The report, authored by Alan Brown and Rebecca Ratzkin, advances several theoretical frameworks for understanding audience and visitor engagement, and includes 11 brief case studies.

A cornerstone of the report is the “Arc of Engagement,” a simple model describing the stages through which audience members travel in constructing unique experiences around a shared work of art.

Helping audiences and visitors make meaning from artistic work is a major focus in the field right now, motivated by the need to attract and retain audiences in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Arts organizations hoping to reap the benefits of an engaged audience must think holistically about managing the total experience, from the moment a decision is made to attend, to the days, months and years after the event.

Engaged audiences are a cornerstone in the foundation of a strong arts ecosystem.

Making Sense of Audience Engagement was commissioned by The San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund as part of the two funders’ collaborative capacity-building efforts, supported by The Wallace Foundation through its Wallace Excellence Awards Program.

Opera for Everyone: Thoughts from the San Francisco Opera on their Wallace project

ImageIn our Wallace proposal General Director David Gockley stated, “Opera is for everyone. We have to find ways to get people into an entry-level opera-going experience in a way that makes sense to them economically and environmentally. We must to get them on a track that goes on to more committed opera-going.”

One of the primary goals of San Francisco Opera’s Wallace Excellence Award was to cultivate demand and increase participation in our free opera simulcasts — and to see whether these events would lead to paid attendance at live performances at the Opera House.

In the fall of 2007, broadcasting a live performance from the stage of the War Memorial Opera House to AT&T Park was a new way to introduce people to the art of opera through a welcoming, easy to attend, popular and free event. Mr. Gockley had produced the first San Francisco Opera simulcast in May 2006 on the opening night of Madama Butterfly, bringing 5,000 people to Civic Center Plaza. It was soon followed by Rigoletto simulcast to both Civic Center Plaza and Stanford University’s Frost Amphitheatre in October 2006 and by Don Giovanni to four indoor venues (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Cal Performances/Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley; Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa; and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at U.C. Davis), in June 2007.

The Opera’s grant proposal to The Wallace Foundation was submitted as we prepared for our first live simulcast to AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, a beloved Bay Area venue, centrally located, easy to reach and attractive to younger audiences and people with families.

At most previous free community events the Opera had captured between 1,000 and 2,000 attendee names. From the first AT&T Park simulcasts, we took advantage of the ballpark’s controlled entrances by offering early access to the ballpark and automatic entry into a drawing for a “Night at the Opera” in exchange for signing up on the Opera’s website. We advertised the simulcast sign-ups in print media, on the radio, in bus stop shelters, by direct mail and stack- dropped postcards, online and through an ongoing email campaign to our database.

As a result, the number of names we captured for future marketing of performances at the War Memorial Opera House was exponentially increased. For Samson and Delilah, of the 10,047 who signed up online for the simulcast, 68% — 6,874 households — were new to our database. For the most popular of all simulcast titles, Aida, in 2010, 21,350 households registered, of whom 10,033 (47% of the total) were new to our database. From Samson in 2007 through Turandot in 2011, we added 48,542 new households of potential buyers.

Over this same timeframe, more than four thousand of these new patrons purchased $1.4 million in tickets through onsite and follow-up discount offers (including first-time single ticket and subscription purchases and repeat purchases through the years), a strong demonstration of the power of the art form to attract new paying customers through a free event, if the introduction is strong enough (a popular title presented in an inviting venue), contact information is rigorously gathered, and the initial “special offer” is attractive enough — in this case a 50% discount.

Each simulcast was marked by incredibly joyful and respectful responses from the large ballpark crowds experiencing the live opera performance on the big screen. It was thrilling to witness 32,000 people watch a performance of Aida in almost total silence, erupt in cheers at the end of the Triumphal March, and then stand to applaud through the end of the curtain calls, before thanking the staff and volunteers on their way out of the stadium.

As part of our Wallace plan, we surveyed those who had signed up on the website for their reactions to the event, asking how they had learned of the simulcast, why they attended, how much they enjoyed it, and if they were likely to recommend SFO simulcasts to others. We asked if

they were interested in going to a performance at the Opera House in the future and about perceived barriers to attendance. Analysis of survey responses helped us refine our simulcast marketing plans, gave us insights into patron interest in and exposure to opera beyond the simulcast, and their experience with opera in general and San Francisco Opera in particular. Over the years, simulcast audiences have grown more diverse, slightly younger and somewhat less familiar with opera than our first simulcast audiences. As noted above, many of them followed their attendance at a simulcast with attendance at the Opera House. We are tremendously grateful to The Wallace Foundation for helping make that possible.

The next San Francisco Opera “Opera at the Ballpark” simulcast to AT&T Park will be Verdi’s Rigoletto on Saturday evening, September 15, 2012. We hope you’ll join us!

Read up on our conference speakers ahead of time

We’re all getting very excited for Beyond Dynamic Adaptability on October 24th.  There’s still time to register here.  We have an extraordinary number of speakers from all corners of the field, and almost 400 people registered to attend.  It’s going to be a great conversation!

A number of our presenters are prolific bloggers, writing about various issues related to culture, technology, and the role of the arts in our society.  Here are just a few links to explore:

Arlene Goldbard

Beth Kanter

Nina Simon

Favianna Rodriguez

And here’s Michael Rohd writing in the online journal HowlRound and John Killacky on ARTSBlog.

Happy Reading!

(presenting at our conference and I left you off the list? Please add a link in the comments!)

What’s a fishbowl? Find out at Beyond Dynamic Adaptability

  Last summer Kary Schulman sent me a link to a great post by Diane Ragsdale about why she was tired of arts conferences as usual.  Since we were deep in planning mode for our Wallace conference I (and our great planning committee) got inspired to look past the same old keynote-plenary-breakout session format.  We wanted our conference format to experiment with the new kinds of participation we’ve been urging arts organizations to try out.  Our upcoming conference on October 24th (registration opens Monday) includes a variety of new ways to engage with ideas, with each other, and with the change sweeping our sector. We hope you’ll tell us whether this is a better kind of conference.

One format that we’re trying is the fishbowl, a structure where panelists sit in a circle in the middle of the room, talking to each other, with an empty chair for any interested audience member to join in.  After 45 minutes or so, the panel splits up and helps facilitate small group discussions on the same topic.  If you’ve ever wished you could hear from your colleague across the room as well as the flown-in “expert” up front, or had to use twitter to express your distaste for the way a conversation was unfolding at a conference, then this is for you.  Each of our fishbowls will revolve around a question  — for example, museum whiz Nina Simon will moderate a fishbowl about “How can we invite audiences to become active collaborators?”

Have some thoughts on that? Comment below.  And don’t forget to register for our free conference!

Join us on 10/24 for Beyond Dynamic Adaptability: a free conference for the arts community

  What do Linda Ronstadt, Beth Kanter, Ben Cameron, and Dante Di Loreto of Glee have in common? They’ll all be speaking at our conference on October 24th. We hope you’ll be there too!

Beyond Dynamic Adaptability: How Changing Participation is Changing the Arts is a free full-day conference for the entire arts community.  As accelerated cultural change keeps shifting the arts sector, we invite you to take a day to stop, reflect, share and learn as we navigate these changes together.

Our conference format aims to be as experimental as its content and includes five simultaneous “fishbowl” conversations with expert panelists and empty chairs for interested audience members to jump into the conversation as well as an Art Bar, a space for art and encounter with musicians, dancers, poets, pop-up artists and opportunities for informal interchange on stage and off.

More information about the day is available on the conference website and will be shared here as well.  The conference is free but pre-registration is required.  Registration will open on 9/26.

Devon Smith explains location based social networks

This is a guest post from Devon Smith, one of the trainers for Leveraging Social Media.

The Wallace Initiative is the major funder of Leveraging Social Media, a program aimed at increasing social media capacity for arts organizations, led by noted non-profit technology expert Beth Kanter. Watch this space as well as Beth’s Blog for more from the 30 organizations participating in the extended program as well as Beth and the other trainers.

Location based social networks bridge the digital world with the physical world: users “check in” to a real world location using their smart phone. These social networks can connect arts organizations with their audiences in new ways, but each has its own strengths, audience niche, and purpose. Google Places is the largest, Yelp has the most active users, Facebook Places drives Facebook Page engagement, and Foursquare effectively uses game mechanics to encourage loyalty. So does your arts organization need a verified profile on every service? Is your audience already talking about your arts organization on these networks? How will smart phone usage inside your venue change the audience’s experience with the art?

The following presentation:

  • Defines what location based social networks are;
  • Compares the differences between the major location based social networks;
  • Provides step-by-step instructions for how to sign up and use each one;
  • Shares results of a 1.5 year study of theatres using Foursquare; and
  • Collects eleven case studies of innovative uses of Foursquare in the arts and beyond.

Save the Date for our Next Conference

Mark your calendars now for October 24, 2011, the date for our next community convening.

Dynamic Adaptability by grimlookdknight
Dynamic Adaptability, a photo by grimlookdknight on Flickr.

Remember Dynamic Adaptability? Now we bring you another fascinating day on the changing nature of cultural participation. Here comes the audience….look out, this will be a conference of a different kind. Watch here for more info as programming unfolds and we get ready to launch registration at the end of the summer.

In the meantime, spark your interest in the topic by reading this fascinating essay on what audiences want now by Demos’ Charles Leadbeater, entitled “The Art of With.”

Alan Brown’s Art of Interviewing: Wrap-up and Resources

At last week’s workshop, consultant Alan Brown gave an in-depth presentation on effective interviewing techniques. He started with a demonstration of an “impact” interview, interviewing Z Space’s Lisa Steindler on her experience at a recent performance of Lily’s Revenge at the Magic Theatre. Lisa responded to his questions with startlingly deep answers about the way the play made her think about love and human understanding, something Alan later called “the quote you put in the season brochure.”

Alan talked about the uses of interviewing including:

  • Assessing your competitive position
  • Learning from external stakeholders
  • Getting specific feedback after a performance or visit
  • Gathering input on an issue or question
  • Test marketing messages.

He led us through the steps to prepare effectively, emphasizing how important it is to have clear objectives.  “If nothing is at stake” he said (meaning nothing would change as a result of the interviews’ findings) “then don’t waste your time”.  Workshop participants then had the chance to try out Alan’s interview protocols on each other, and report back on the experience.

Alan’s full presentation can be found here (clicking link will offer you a download).

Interview protocols are here (clicking link will offer you a download).

Alan also discussed the work he did with The San Francisco Foundation, East Bay Community Foundation, and Helicon Collaborative on the Donor Motivations Study (results of interviews with many arts donors) which can be found on the San Francisco Foundation website here. (scroll down to the study description)

High Demand for Alan Brown’s Art Of Interviewing

The Wallace Cultural Participation Initiative’s free series of public workshops continues with Alan Brown’s Art of Interviewing.

All spots for this workshop filled within hours of sending the promotional email, thanks to Alan’s reputation as an extraordinary trainer. Since there can often be no-shows for free workshops, you can still sign up on the waitlist here and come early to try to secure a spot.

Look on this blog next week for a recap of the event and its content.


In 2008, The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) and Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund (GFTA) embarked on a four-year funding partnership to encourage systemic and sustainable structural change in the relationships of Bay Area arts organizations to their audiences, supported by the Wallace Foundation. Community offerings during the grant period (2008-2011) included seminars, workshops, large public convenings, implementation grants, development of a regional shared mailing list, and expansion of the SFArts.org website.