Audience Diversification – Introduction
The makeup of attendees at our events shows starkly how we matter to our communities. The diversity of those who attend is a key measure — perhaps the ultimate measure — of our impact.
As orchestras face questions around the continued relevance of their work and its financial sustainability, many are recognizing the urgent need not only to broaden their base of audience and donors, but also to redefine their own understanding of the term “audience” to go beyond ticket-buyers and embrace the full spectrum of communities making up their home cities.
As demonstrated in this Catalyst Guide, individual orchestras have been making efforts to become more welcoming. However, the field as a whole is making limited progress when compared to other cultural organizations: the proportion of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people purchasing orchestra tickets has barely increased since 2019 despite equal levels of interest in classical music across all racial/ethnic groups. And, overall, almost 50% of Americans believe that symphony orchestras are “not welcoming to people like me.”
Surmounting the impasse created by centuries of systemic exclusion presents challenges. But with strong leadership, internal alignment around inclusion, and investment in the future, orchestras now have a real opportunity to study and adapt promising practices and grow their community impact. Some League member orchestras are leading the way in this work. What approaches are proving successful in engaging with new and more diverse communities? What has their learning been so far? For this Guide, orchestras representing a range of sizes, locations, and communities shared their thoughts, experiences, challenges, and successes to help the whole field level up on audience diversification.
For youth orchestras, audience diversification and student diversification efforts are inextricably linked. Across the U.S., youth orchestras are working hard to provide equitable access to musical opportunity by providing an inclusive, welcoming experience for students and family members. While this Guide focuses on efforts seen among professional orchestras, the stories of community partnership, culturally responsive programming, and internal culture change are relevant to youth orchestras as well. Read more about the work of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras in this area in the League’s Catalyst Snapshots publication.