Catalyst Guide: Audience Diversification
by Theodore Wiprud with Dr. Karen Yair and Donna Walker-Kuhne
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.
In this Catalyst Guide, learn from fifteen orchestras that are making progress towards engaging younger and more racially diverse audiences. Scroll down or download the PDF to explore 8 key audience diversification strategies, ways to overcome commonly experienced challenges, and case studies showing these orchestras in action.
Get additional perspective on the experiences and strategies found in this guide. League members can watch Stories of Progress in Audience Engagement, a 60-minute webinar with Johnstown Symphony’s James Blachly, New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Janaya Laude, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Joe Loehnis, New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Katie Bonner Russo, and Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s Nikki Thorpe, facilitated by Donna Walker-Kuhne.
Strategies for Diversifying Audiences
The following accounts of inspired risk-taking and promising initial results illustrate many of the ideas described in this Guide.
The Road Ahead
The dozens of interviews behind this report show the orchestra field’s tremendous creativity and commitment to diversifying audiences across multiple demographics. The League will continue to produce webinars, Conference sessions, constituency meetings, and online resources to help guide and celebrate this important work. Authentic relationships are growing through patient partnership building and we are excited to see the progress in future studies. The more our audiences come to look like our neighbors, the more we will matter to our communities.
- Orchestra Patron Data Update September 2023, TRG Arts/League of American Orchestras
- Have Cultural Entities Grown More Welcoming? Here’s What the Public Thinks, Insights EXPERIENCE
- Catalyst Snapshots: EDI Case Studies from American Orchestras, League of American Orchestras
- Making the Case for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Orchestras, League of American Orchestras
- Forward Thinking: Forward Together, Simon Woods, Symphony
- Promising Practices: Actions Orchestras Can Take to Make Progress Towards Equity, League of American Orchestras
- Inclusive Stages, League of American Orchestras
- IDEA Study of Audience Attitudes Towards Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity, WolfBrown
- Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Artistic Planning, League of American Orchestras
- Orchestra Audiences Call for Modernising Changes to Draw More People to the Concert Hall This Season, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- What is a Data Append?, NAICS Association
- Audience Diversification Research and Resources, League of American Orchestras
About the Authors
Theodore Wiprud is a composer and a consultant in the arts and education, and was the longtime Vice President, Education, at the New York Philharmonic. He has been active in multiple EDI initiatives, including the launch of The Catalyst Fund in 2019.
Dr. Karen Yair is Vice President, Research and Resources, at the League of American Orchestras.
Donna Walker-Kuhne is an award-winning thought leader, writer and strategist for community engagement, audience development and social justice. She is President of WalkerInternational Communications Group, a 30-year-old boutique marketing and audience development consulting agency. She was formerly Director of Marketing for both The Public Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem. She was also Vice President of Marketing and Vice President of Community Engagement at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. She provides consulting services to numerous arts organizations throughout the world and has generated over $22 million in earned income. She is also Senior Advisor, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Currently her portfolio includes social justice initiatives and Equity Diversity Inclusion workshops. She is a lecturer and keynote presenter for international arts conferences in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Croatia, and Australian Arts Conferences. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and Columbia University. She is the recipient of over 50 awards including the 2022 Margot Adams Signature Award, 2021 SGI-USA Distinguished Pioneer Award and the 2019 League of Professional Theatre Women Rachel Crothers Leadership Award. Her first book, Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to Arts, Culture and Community, was published in 2005 and her second book, Champions for the Arts: Lessons and Successful Strategies for Engaging Diverse Audiences will be published in April 2024. She has a weekly blog, Arts and Culture Connections, that explores cultural efforts to expand diverse audiences. She is also a Board member for Newark Arts Council, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Signature Theater (NY), HARLEM WEEK, and The Harlem Arts Alliance.
The Catalyst Fund Incubator, Catalyst Guides, and Catalyst Snapshots are made possible by the Mellon Foundation with additional support from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation. Additional support for this Catalyst Guide is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Thank you to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Handel and Haydn Society, Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra, Jacksonville Symphony, Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Oregon Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, whose learnings in equity, diversity, and inclusion work inform this Guide.
Lead Author: Theodore Wiprud
Contributing Authors: Dr. Karen Yair and Donna Walker-Kuhne
Reviewers: Simon Woods and Andrew Anzel Ph.D
Content Developer and Producer: Dr. Karen Yair
Creative Director: Rachel Rossos Gallant
Editor: Rachel Rossos Gallant
Designer: Mark Ho-Kane
Web Layout: Joanna Bettelheim
Interviewees: Alex Speir, Charles Buchanan, Dan Hart, Dave Moss, David Fisk, David Snead, Deirdre Roddin, Diana Ortiz, Elaine Carroll, Elias Feghali, James Blachly, Jesse Needleman, Jessica Ruiz, Joe Loehnis, Karisa Antonio, Katie Bonner Russo, Marianne Rice, Nikki Thorpe, Roberto Castro, Russell Kelban, Terell Johnson, Tony Nickle, Tori Fusinaz.
© 2024 League of American Orchestras
Published on January 4, 2024.
A Catalyst Guide by the League of American Orchestras.
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