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Ausrine Stundyte as Cio-Cio-San, Elizabeth Janes as Butterfly’s child and Sarah Larsen as Suzuki in Seattle Opera's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Photo by Elise Bakketun.
The Guiding Principles of Audience Development

OPERA America staff inaugurated The Guiding Principles of Audience Development in 1999 by undertaking a thorough examination and analysis of all of the audience development grants awarded through the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Opera For A New America (LWRD/OFANA) program. Staff then shared their analysis and consulted with members of the field through a series of focus groups. These conversations led to the creation of the Guiding Principles of Audience Development.

We welcome your questions and comments about the Guiding Principles . In addition, if you are aware of additional resources that would be appropriate to include on the website, please let us know. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Patricia Kiernan Johnson, director of marketing and communications, at 212-796-8628 or PKJohnson@operaamerica.org.

Guiding Principles for Audience Development

What is Audience Development?
Audience development is a combination of comprehensive strategies that strengthen relationships among audiences, the art form, and the opera company. Effective audience development is incorporated into the full range of a company's activities, including programming, operations, marketing and public relations, education and outreach, and development.

The goals of audience development are increasing awareness of, and participation in, the activities of an opera company, which include but are not limited to attendance at performances. This involvement can and should manifest itself in ways that extend beyond ticket sales, to participation in the company's leadership, volunteer core, and donor groups, or voicing support for the company and its value in the community.

Company Preparedness
Success in audience development depends in large measure on the abilities and resources of the company. Companies with a track record of successful audience development programs possess the following characteristics
  • The company's leadership (board and staff) share a clear vision of the organization's needs and goals for audience development, and are able to inspire other key players to work toward those needs and goals.
  • The company is willing and able to embrace change in the audience, the organization, and the community.
  • The company possesses sufficient human and financial resources, both to continue current programming and to support new audience development efforts.
  • The company is closely connected to the community it hopes to reach, with a healthy curiosity about the interests, concerns, and motivations of its current and potential audience.
  • The company communicates clearly and openly, both internally and externally.
(Additional Source: For the Record: Documenting Performing Arts Audience Development Initiatives , published by Association of Performing Arts Presenters, 1998)

Defining Goals
Every company and audience development project is unique. Successful audience development programs define goals that incorporate the individual company and community environment. These programs include the following characteristics:

  • The company plans well in advance of the project inception.
  • The company determines specific, attainable goals for an overarching audience development strategy and for specific audience development projects within that strategy.
  • As project goals are determined, companies simultaneously create appropriate goals for assessment and documentation, using both qualitative and quantitative measures.
  • Companies choose different projects for a variety of reasons. Some audience development projects result in greater ticket sales while others focus on increased public awareness of the company or the creation of partnerships within the community.


Knowing Your Audiences
Understanding your audiences beyond statistical demographics is key to success in their development. Companies who know their audience agree on the following points:
  • Programs are customized for specific audiences.
  • Audiences lie at different points along a continuum of increasing involvement with the company. Audiences also have varied levels of experience with the art form. Successful programs acknowledge these differences.
  • Non-attenders are an important audience. By creating a positive perception of the company in the community, non-attenders view the company favorably in social and political situations.
  • When focusing on a particular community, companies should identify leaders of that community and involve them in every phase of project planning, from the earliest conception of the project. Companies should listen to these leaders, recognizing that their opinions are of paramount importance as projects are planned.
  • Companies create accessibility through many different points of entry.
  • Companies should not assume that an audience who attends a culturally specific new work will immediately make the leap to attend standard repertoire.
  • Companies should remember that standard repertoire may be new to many audience members.


Partnerships
In audience development projects, partnerships bring value to both organizations. Successful audience development partnerships are based on a knowledge of (or desire to know) the community and are built on the following principles:
  • Partnerships are carefully defined at the beginning of the relationship to ensure maximum success.
  • Success in partnerships can be measured in various ways but must be carefully defined at the beginning.
  • Opera companies should not underestimate the value that they bring to their community partners. There is power in the art form of opera to support other organizations' missions.
  • The process of creating partnerships begins by initiating dialogue with potential community partners. Companies should listen to their partners' opinions and respect their needs and expectations. Partners should be fully involved in the planning process.
  • Realistic expectations should be defined up front.
  • Partners should discover and build on common ground and bonds of interest.
  • It is important to resist the idea that partnerships are successful only if they are permanent and ongoing.
  • Companies should dare to be creative in thinking about new partnerships. Sometimes the most successful partnerships are formed when a company is willing to take a risk.


Opera-Centered Programs
Audience development programs should grow out of the company's mission. Many, though not all companies with a track record of success in audience development create programs with the following characteristics:
  • They are built on a belief in the artform's ability to communicate with an audience on an emotional level.
  • They grow from the company's artistic mission.
  • They are built from a grounding in opera's history and heritage, and hence on an emotional level.
  • They are built from a grounding in opera's history and heritage, and a thorough knowledge of the specific works presented by the company.
  • They give audiences access to the creative process, demystifying that process and giving artists a chance to share their success with the assumption that most of the potential audience has no prior opera knowledge—or perhaps only negative images—and begin at "ground zero."
  • When addressing current audiences, they strive to foster a deeper understanding of opera, thereby creating a closer relationship to the company and the art form itself.


Interdepartmental Communication
For audience development projects to be successful, every department within the organization must have a role to play and understand how their work supports the overall effort. Companies with success in audience development realize:
  • Buy-in from the entire staff is critical to the success of an audience development project. Staff must understand the work itself as well as the audience development project, its goals, and the resources required.
  • Communication with boards is a critical element. The board must understand that there may be no immediate, quantifiable results from audience development projects. They, too, must clearly understand and support the goals of the project.
  • Companies must determine how each part of the organization can supplement and enhance the activity. They must define each department's role and bring everyone into the planning discussions from the beginning.
  • One of the most important benefits of audience development work for a company is increased interdepartmental communication.

Winter 2013 Magazine Issue
  • A Banner Year for America Repertoire
  • The Political Voice on the Opera Stage
  • Trustees as New Music Advocates

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From 42nd Street/Times Square:
Take the Train to the 28th Street stop and walk north on 7th Avenue.
The building is on the same block as the train stop.

For more detailed directions, most up-to-date pricing or to specify a different starting location, please visit the
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