You Want Younger Audiences? Time to Start Listening!

Posted on September 4, 2012 at 1:12 pm by
in Staying informed
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Shoshana Fanizza is the founder of Audience Development Specialists (ADS for short). It’s a company that provides services to help organizations and individuals learn how to apply audience development to their art. Find ADS here. As is the usual case now-a-days, she has a blog, and last June I stumbled across what I thought was an interesting take on audience development and Arts Conferences. Her point is that if you want to develop a younger audience, younger folks need to see younger folks at Arts Conferences, in this case the League of American Orchestras 2012 conference. 

Let’s think about a twenty-something guy who wants to take a date to the local symphony. They get there open the program book and see ads for high-end jewelers, furriers, retirement communities and the occasional mortuary. Yikes.

Well, we aren’t going to change the program book.  That’s a given. But we know that classical music and orchestras have a problem attracting a younger and a more racially diverse audience. So how about asking members of those groups to mentor us? Simply ask what would entice them to attend an orchestra concert. In the business world it’s called reverse mentoring and though we’re a music school and not a corporation, we do it all the time at Eastman, where I teach. We have found that we may think we know what resonates with young people, but by asking them we can get confirmation or rejection of our ideas.  Even better, we gets loads of good ideas from them.

Give Ms. Fanizza blog a read.  Go here, or here it is below.

You want young? Start listening! Audience development for arts conferences…

Shoshana Fanizza, Audience Development blog, 6/15/12

Due to funds, I am only able to go to one conference a year.  I hope this changes in the future.  I love being a part of conferences since the energy is contagious, and I am able to meet some fantastic people. If I were invited to speak at one of these conferences, I might have said…

Twitter has been so incredible for following conferences around the globe. Hashtags have become priceless in this respect.  I am glad I can be a part of the conference experiences, even if I am a fly on the Twitter wall.

The recorded keynotes have also been helpful.  Recently I was watching the final keynote for the League of American Orchestras conference, A Call to Action by Clive Gillinson. His actual speech begins about the 30 minute mark.  I loved what he had to say since it was forward thinking.  Become a part of the community and ask what you can do for them rather than what can be done for your organization, etc.  However, the delivery, the presentation and how he was dressed, was very formal and old school.  I tweeted that I wanted to see him in a Hawaiian shirt, or something equally bright to be in fashion with what he had to say.  I also have been thinking that in order to “get outside of the box,” perhaps we need to let our hair down more at these conferences instead of being so gosh darn formal.

Which brings me to the “You want young?” part of this post.  We all need/want younger audiences, right?  Many times, at these conferences, we hear from the older generations.  Very few conferences have younger speakers as a main event.  Are we listening to our younger generations?  Are we allowing them to get their viewpoint across to us?  If we want younger audiences, maybe we need to start listening to our younger participants.

This means that having a few keynotes presented by the younger generations would be most helpful.  I am all for learning from the experienced, but the younger generations have experiences to share as well.

In general, I do not feel we are listening to the younger generations as much as we could.  We attempt to figure out what they want, but are we really listening to what they want? Are we listening to their perspectives?

Perhaps we are afraid that what they want is something we would not like to offer.  Perhaps the older generation is afraid that they will no longer be valued if we allow younger generations time on the soap box.  These are fears we need to overcome if we truly want to be relevant to younger demographics.

GenY has personal experiences to share that are full of creativity and positive energy.  Why limit their share time to a breakout session?

GenX, being the oldest of the younger generations, has an interesting perspective and most are not afraid to share what they think.  They can be brash, but rather refreshing.  They can serve as a wake-up call if we allow them to speak to the general assembly.

The other younger generations rather participate than sit quietly with hands folded in their seats.  They will, however, listen to peers.

Conferences can be valuable for the sharing of new ideas, but in order for us to move forward, perhaps the conferences need to be more forward thinking in how they present and who is chosen to speak.  All generations have something special to offer.

I hope in the future to see more diversity in our conferences if this is what we are truly striving for. I am grateful to see some exceptions, but for the most part, older white guys are still ruling the roost.

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,

Shoshana

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