Changing arts audiences in the 21st century

Changing arts audiences in the 21st century

By Morris Hargreaves McIntyre


Morris Hargreaves McIntyre detail seven pillars for arts organisations to potentially transform their audience development focus: vision-led, brand-driven, outcome-orientated, inter-disciplinary, insight-guided, interactively-engaged, and personalised.

Are you sitting comfortably?

In 1909 Caruso the legendary opera singer performed at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The following day 40,000 people turned out to Heaton Park, North Manchester, to hear the recording of his concert broadcast from a gramophone player with a very big horn. And they were all wearing hats.

A century later, opera is broadcast by satellite, with performances beamed live from the Met in New York to cinemas across the UK and the world, to sell out audiences.

At another level of engagement Liverpool Philharmonic performed to over 80 avatars in the virtual world Second Life. Afterwards, patrons visited the virtual Grand Foyer Bar at the Phil where Petrenko and Composer-in-the-House Ken Hesketh were on hand to chat and answer questions about the performance. That concert can now be experienced by anyone on the site - a potential audience of 8.6m. The difference now is that the second lifers wanted to interact with the experience, including dancing exotically in the aisle.

So, times they are a-changing but many orchestras still resemble the model of a century ago, and still approach their audience as a distant, respectful group of passive consumers whose hats have now been replaced by a sea of grey hair. At one time, orchestras sold a high proportion of their tickets through industrial subscription schemes. Targeted at people with little money and limited opportunities, a choice of two TV channels and without the internet and a vast array of other cultural offerings as alternatives, orchestral concerts could be the highlight of a drab week. But in the modern world, when the most common reason for a lapsed subscription is death, we need to reconfigure our offer and find new ways to engage people.

And it's not just orchestras: all our traditional arts organisations were developed in very different times, for audiences very different from those we address now. If we are to adapt at the speed set by the fast-changing world around us, then audience insight is the catalyst we need to help us match that pace of change.

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Resource type: | Published: 2013