Following Matt Lehrman’s packed AudiencesEverywhere presentation last month at the Senator John Heinz History Center, the arts-centric audience was given the opportunity to hear from local arts groups about ways they are involving the community in what they do. The goal of the day was to get arts non-profits thinking in new ways about audience engagement - critical to the success of arts non-profits, anywhere.
Led by Brett Crawford of the Arts Management & Technology Laboratory at CMU, the panel consisted of janera solomon, Executive Director at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater; Kristen Linfante, Executive Director of Chamber Music Pittsburgh; Lucy Stewart, Associate Curator of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Art; and Erin R. Perry, CEO/Executive Director of the Legacy Arts Project.
janera soloman started things off with a discussion on how the Kelly Strayhorn develops its season of theater, dance, and jazz performances. “How can we connect audiences with each other and what we’re interested in?” she asked. “We start with the assumption that no one cares.”
One of the Kelly Strayhorn team’s strategies is to present performances they find interesting -- these may have small audience interest but would be a remarkable experience for those that did attend. And, hopefully, these events would be a stepping stone to building future audiences.
Chamber Music Pittsburgh’s Linfante segued into the need to develop audiences for the future. The group was facing a problem confronting other classical music organizations -- classical music was for the elderly and the elite. In fact, a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the results of a survey conducted by the Pittsburgh Symphony. It wasn’t good -- potential audience members responded in the negative with remarks like “old” and “boring.”
As a result, Linfante and her team is hoping to move away from those assumptions. They have changed the name of the organization from the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society to Chamber Music Pittsburgh and are beginning to do things differently
“We want to make the community feel they belong,” she noted. To that end, the organization began an annual Just Summer Series with performances at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, the Pittsburgh Performs series with all-Pittsburgh musicians, and concerts in non-concert venues like bars, restaurants, and rooftops.
“Who is programming and exhibitions for?” asked Lucy Stewart from the Carnegie Museum of Art. “How do we make art relevant?” To answer her question, she talked about the Braddock Art Lending Library project. The Art Lending Collection, which opened in 2013 as part of the Carnegie International, allows anyone in Allegheny County with a library card to check out works of art, just as someone would check out a book. In addition, two patrons of the library were hired to provide information to visitors about the art.
She also mentioned the “Culture Club: Old Masters, New Music” event in which local composers were asked to select works of art from the 16th Century and write music to be performed at the museum.
Erin R. Perry of the Legacy Arts Project emphasized her organization’s connection to the community: “We are the community we’re developing programming for,” she said. As a community arts organization, they are concerned about social justice and making a connection with the community.
Another means of connection used by the Legacy Arts Project is the use of “transformance,” a way by which an audience is not just spectators at the event but part of the experience.
She also mentioned the spotlighting of important community individuals in the Project’s newsletter as well as a listing of other events happening in the area. “It’s like the ripples in a pond after throwing a stone,” she said.
Image: Kristen Linfante, Chamber Music Pittsburgh's Executive Director, courtesy of Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council