Arts in the Community: Results

Arts in the Community: Results

Highlights of progress through April 2011

photo: Eric Slomanson

Strategy: Strengthen Marin’s arts sector to increase public engagement in the arts

The 17 grantees supported under this strategy are delivering programming in music, dance, theater, literary, and visual arts. Over 9,000 residents who typically lack access to these kinds of programs have participated in arts and cultural activities, including Latino families in West Marin, homeless children, and youth in Juvenile Hall. Data from satisfaction surveys indicate that 85% of respondents are satisfied with the arts and cultural programming that they’ve experienced.

This community-focused model of engaging people in the arts, both as participants in making art and in being audience members, is broadening the traditional notion of engagement—in which people travel to attend performances and events offered by major arts institutions. Under the model MCF is supporting, arts are taking place in more informal settings—where people live and where they already feel a sense of connection.

We are finding that many participants in these programs are enjoying a more immediate experience of the arts, with closer interaction between artists and audiences, and with audiences able to give more immediate feedback about their experiences.

Also, these efforts are helping people become more visible in and involved in their own community, with their work being displayed and published. Participants are also gaining work skills and, in general, are having their voices heard more.

To help arts organizations increase their ability to deliver programming to Marin residents, 13 planning grants were awarded to arts and cultural organizations to promote efforts to broaden, deepen, or diversify their audiences. Currently there are four organizations in the planning phase and seven organizations in their first year of implementation.

A key area of learning for grantees has been the need to take a long-range approach when shifting an organization’s audiences. Whether organizations are broadening, deepening, or diversifying their audiences, significant organizational resources and efforts must be devoted to create meaningful and visible changes in audience profiles and participation patterns. Old organizational practices, traditions, and assumptions must be examined, tested, and potentially discarded, and new practices and approaches need time to be introduced, integrated, and monitored in order to demonstrate results.

Access to quality, timely data is another key element of successful audience development efforts. Grantees are developing their understanding of the necessity to use data to guide decision-making. Routine data collection about audience preferences, demographics, and motivations has not been a regular practice for many arts organizations. With a new appreciation for data also comes the challenge of having the capacity to collect, store, and analyze data.

Outcomes related to changes in rates of participation or diversity of audiences take time to realize. Grantees are finding that simply modifying programming, conducting outreach, or targeting marketing efforts are not enough to demonstrate significant short-term outcomes. To reach some audiences, long-term strategies are needed to develop relationships and changes in the perception of an organization. Some arts organizations have been viewed as elitist or accessible only to affluent Anglo residents and therefore need time to reposition their perception in the community. Other organizations have not had a visible presence in Marin and have historically drawn audiences primarily from San Francisco. The current economy further complicates the challenge of developing audiences or increasing participation as discretionary income is limited and arts and culture is often where individuals and families make reductions in spending.

Despite these challenges, grantees are energized by the new directions their organizations are moving toward. Many organizations have recognized the need to retool their models and reach new audiences. The shifting trends in arts participation, audience demographics, and economic realities facing the arts sector are providing the catalyst needed to initiate long needed changes.

Data collected through the cultural census planning process also confirmed a hypothesis that cultural life in Marin goes beyond formal cultural institutions and art presented by professional artists. The impact of technology on arts attendance as well as a vehicle for reaching potential audiences was another theme. Residents rely heavily on the Internet to access information about products and services; however, the research uncovered that there is no comprehensive resource for cultural activity in the county.

Finally, the audience development efforts are leading to collaborations between arts organizations, both ones involved in the cohorts and with other arts and non-arts organizations. By establishing these partnerships, grantees are broadening their base of potential audiences and increasing visibility. These partnerships are critical to the long-term health and vibrancy of the sector as it is becoming increasingly difficult for arts organizations to operate in isolation from the broader community.

By the numbers:

Area of Measurement As of April 2011 Goal of Five-Year Plan
Number of participants in arts and cultural activities 9,500 in Year 1 8,000/year
Participant satisfaction 85% in Year 1 75% in Year 1
Number of development plans to broaden, diversify, or deepen audience engagement 13 14

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