For the last two decades, arts organizations of various kinds have focused increasing attention on participant development. Many have become more customer-centered in their practices and have successfully attracted more or different participants to their programs. These efforts have produced a growing body of knowledge on effective arts engagement techniques -- the specific programming, marketing and social media strategies that organizations are using to attract participants.
Smart programming and marketing strategies are critical, and they have helped many cultural organizations attract new participants for specific programs. Depending on the organization, targeted populations have included teenagers, young adults, African American professionals, families, Latinos, veterans' groups, low-income populations, Arab Americans and others. Yet overall, the participant mix for the majority of cultural institutions remains largely unmixed. It is still the rare cultural organization whose regular participants truly reflect the socio-economic, ethnic or generational demographics of its wider community.
This report offers an initial framework of key organizational characteristics for cultural institutions that are genuinely engaging participants who reflect their communities' changing demographics. It is not comprehensive, and the concepts outlined here may apply differently to different kinds of institutions. This summary is intended to spark thinking and discussion among organizations that are interested in better connecting with diverse participants and sustaining those relationships over time. It may also spur further experimentation and testing, and encourage leaders to deepen their understanding of the organizational dynamics that are essential to achieving more diverse participation in nonprofit cultural institutions.
This research sought to understand the underlying organizational characteristics of successful engagement of diverse participants by arts organizations. The findings presented are a synthesis of research from multiple sources.