Texas Researcher Gets $3.5M to Study How Arts Groups Attract Fans

Operas, ballet groups and theatre companies are finding it’s getting harder to keep audiences engaged. A new study aims to find out what works — and what doesn’t.

By Laura RiceJuly 30, 2015 9:25 am

Many arts organizations are struggling to reach young people and to diversify their fan base. So how do they fix that? A University of Texas at Austin professor is going to help answer that question. Francie Ostrower is part of a $52 million audience-building initiative sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. She’s getting $3.5 million to study what works – and what doesn’t. It’s the largest research grant ever received by a professor in UT’s College of Fine Arts.

On why it’s not enough to just give organizations this money:

“Well it is a lot of money and I think what’s wonderful about this initiative is that it’s  not and either/or. They’re funding 26 performing arts organizations to engage in audience-building efforts and then they’re funding us to study them and what we’ll be able to do then is to look at what all of these organizations are doing and to glean lessons from what they’re doing that can hopefully be used by many other arts organizations and others interested in the field. Not just how you get people in the doors once but how you really build relationships with them that are going to keep them engaged and have them come back.”

On the crux of her research:

“One of the really important things that these organizations will be doing and what we’re going to be looking at is to understand why people are coming and to try to understand why people aren’t coming and then to target what you’re doing around that. That’s a very important part of it.”

On interest in the arts:

“National surveys show there seem to be more people interested in coming than are coming. So there does seem to be some additional interest out there.”