By Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Staff

One of the greatest challenges facing arts leaders around the country – and here in Denver – is how to build and retain new audiences.

On May 31, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and Denver Arts & Venues, sponsored by the New York-based Wallace Foundation, hosted “The Road to Results in Denver: A Forum on Audience Building” at McNichols Civic Center Building.

The purpose of the forum? How arts organizations can utilize evidence-based best practices to successfully engage, grow and retain audiences.

Audience DevelopmentThe program featured keynote speaker Bob Harlow – who has 20 years of market research experience and is the author of the Wallace-commissioned study, “The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences.”

Bob Harlow and his team of researchers were tasked with providing individual case studies from 54 different arts organizations across the country. They wanted to know: What were these organizations doing right to build their audiences? What were they not doing as effectively?

“If you’re going after millennials, you’re going to have a different approach than if you’re aiming for older adults,” said Bob Harlow as he addressed the crowd attending the forum in Denver. “But along the way as we did this research, we also found a whole set of best practices that worked no matter who you are or what audience you’re pursuing.”

Didn’t attend the forum? You’re in luck: You can watch Bob Harlow’s full presentation here:

After Bob Harlow’s talk, there was a panel discussion on audience successes and challenges with Charlie Miller, the Associate Artistic Director for Strategy and Innovation for Off Center, Denver Center for the Performing Arts; Cookie G. Ruiz, the Executive Director of Ballet Austin; and Marcela de la Mar, the Executive Director of Mexican Cultural Center. The panel discussion was moderated by Christine Yoon, Wallace Foundation’s Arts Program Officer.

Audience Development: PanelBoth Ballet Austin and Denver Center for Performing Arts were among the 25 organizations that participated in the Building Audiences for Sustainability (BAS) initiative, which was the Wallace Foundation’s six-year, $52-million effort designed to help organizations attract and retain new audiences in ways that contribute to their financial health.

“Our mission critical problem that we started to see, happened around 2007-2008, when we noticed that our audiences were aging and the younger audiences weren’t attending the theatre like the way their parents and grandparents did,” answered Charlie Miller from the Denver Center for Performing Arts. “Fast-forward six years and there was a lot of buzz about Denver being a city for millennials, and we saw that as a huge opportunity as a way for us to start targeting the younger audience.”

Set aside some time and watch the full panel discussion now:

The program also had a special Q&A session, giving event attendees the chance to ask questions and encourage further discussions on audience development as Christine Yoon moderated.

You can watch the Q&A session now:

And after having reviewed the videos, if you are interested in a deeper dive, The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences and Taking Out the Guesswork: A Guide to Using Research to Build Arts Audiences can be ordered here while supplies last.