What Does Audience Engagement Really Mean?

About Kelly Tweeddale

Kelly Tweeddale has written 3 posts in this blog. #

Kelly Tweeddale is Seattle Opera’s Executive Director. She plays a key role in organizing and supervising the Opera’s daily operations, in generating and overseeing the company’s budgets, and in developing and implementing the Opera’s strategic long-range plan. She is overseeing Seattle Opera’s future development project—consolidating the company’s operations including administrative, rehearsal, production, educational, technical support, costume and scenic assembly spaces—into one building adjacent to its performance hall in order to maximize community access, innovation and collaboration. #



  1. As usual, we see all this cogitation about issues such as the artist/public relationship, demographics, new media, engagement etc. while the biggest issue of all is entirely ignored. The USA is the only developed country in the world without a comprehensive system of public arts funding. As a result, we only have three cities in the top 100 for opera performances per capita: New York at 7th, Chicago at 66th, and San Francisco at 81st.

    Seattle has a population of 608,000, and a metro population of 3.4 million (the 15th largest in the USA.) It is also one of the richest cities in the world, but in terms of opera performances per year it pathetically limps in at the 172nd position. It far outranked by European cities only a tiny fraction of the size:

    Innsbruck at 28th with a pop. of 117,000
    Luzern at 64th with a pop. of 78,000
    Pforzheim at 69th with a pop. of 119,000.
    (Countless additional examples could be listed.)

    And then there’s Seattle at 172nd with a pop. of 608,000.

    If cities like Seattle want to claim they have major opera companies, they need to put up or shut up.

    We can discuss issues, but we’re not going to see significant change in any of them until we develop a public funding system like ALL other countries in the developed world have long had. Sure, it will be difficult process and a long time before we develop such a system, but let’s not fool ourselves, we will not begin to match international standards for availability, affordability, and attendance until we do. And let’s not pretend Europe’s public funding system is going to go away. It isn’t, in spite of all the misleading, neo-con propaganda we are bombarded with by the corporate media.

    And yet watch in this discussion how little is said about our lack of public funding. We see how deeply brain-washed and corralled American administrators are. They are not even capable of addressing the most salient issue. It will remain a non-topic, and so little change will take place.

  2. Dopelganger says:

    William – this is all very tedious if it just comes down to funding. Show me where there’s a thumping demand for the level of activity you imagine can be supported. I presume you are of the “build it and they will come” school and that simply by increasing the amount of opera, the audiences will magically appear. If so, there are plenty of examples of “build it and they will come” projects that have crashed and burned.

    If it were simply a matter of increasing the supply and the demand would follow, I think there have been enough attempts at that to show it doesn’t work. Even given that, the increase in facilities built and new arts activity in the past 30 years in the US has been remarkable. It’s easy to on and on braying about lack of funding systems and “deeply brain-washed and corralled American administrators” but the evidence simply doesn’t support your premise.

    • The ever-repeated premise that Americans are uncultured yokels who can’t appreciate opera is what is tedious. Opera is closer to a popular art form than almost any other type of classical music. And in fact, it was once a popular art form in America – a tradition that could have been maintained, just as it has been in Europe, through public funding. Instead, we turned opera into a rarified art form by systematically starving it to death. No other developed country followed such a pattern.

      Let’s look at a few of the things public funding systems do for opera in Europe:

      1. The tickets for Europe’s publically funded houses are about one third as expensive on average as those in Seattle – and one fourth or fifth those at the Met. Cheaper tickets obviously massively increase demand. Opera is best experienced in good seats, but most people just can’t afford them on a regular basis in Seattle or most other American houses. European prices would triple the demand in Seattle.
      2. The arts do not follow the simple supply/demand rules of business. In European cities the size of Seattle, houses usually do three to five performances a week, about 48 weeks a year. Cities like Berlin, Paris, Munich and Zurich, often do 8 performances a week. Increased supply creates increased demand because it allows people to develop a taste for opera. With Seattle’s scanty season, it is virtually impossible to build a larger public for opera because people do not have the opportunity to even experience it.
      3. Public funding allows a much better ticketing system that is not so dependant upon very expensive subscriptions. People can buy single tickets and still get affordable *good* seats, and on reasonably convenient dates. (In spite of all those ideological claims to the contrary, those $25 seats in the back of massive auditoriums aren’t going to do much for building publics.)
      4. Public funding allows for a much larger variety in repertoire which allows houses to reach wider publics.
      5. Public funding allows for better publicity and outreach programs.
      6. Public funding enables houses to do many more performances designed for children and young people which builds publics and future audiences.
      7. Public funding builds communal pride around cultural institutions because the community knows the house belongs to the people and not a wealthy elite running a sort of cultural country club.
      8. Public funding raises artistic standards which helps bring in bigger audiences. What a joke, for example, that the so-called Houston Grand Opera only has about 30 or 40 musicians in its core orchestra and the rest are hired on a pick-up basis. Most American companies work in rental facilities with pickup orchestras and singers. It is not possible to build genuinely high artistic standards under those circumstances. Just look at what is happening to the NYC Opera – and in a city of 8 million people. Better paid artists, and longer seasons that allow for much more experience raise standards.
      9. Public funding allows companies to have far better physical infrastructures with adequate buildings, shops, offices, rehearsal, and storage spaces functioning in a centralized location.
      10. Public funding allows houses to maintain studio theaters for newer and more experimental forms of theater that help build new publics and gives the genre a better future by allowing composers to experiment. Every house in larger European cities has an active studio theater as well as a main house. Such theaters are virturally non-existant in American houses.

      So now what do we do? Our funding system massively reduces artistic activity and its publics, and this is the *central* problem we face in the artist/public relationship. And this fact will be almost entirely ignored in this discussion.

      • Kelly Tweeddale says:

        As an arts administrator in the U.S. I just want to go on record that I haven’t ignored the public funding/societal intrinsic value argument that Mr. Osborne puts forth. I meet with legislators, write letters, go to caucuses, advocate both locally, regionally and nationally, have a board committee made up of influential citizens and past electeds that follow every piece of arts legislation and lobby for the value of accessibility of the arts in creatiing both an informed and engaged citizenry. At the end of the day, we have seen our public funding drop from a whopping 2% of budget to 1.7% and the decline continues.

        What may look like lethargy on the part of arts administrators is more like turning our focus to the other 98% of our budget that has to come from somewhere else. In the U.S. public policy will only change if there is a significant mass of constiuents (voters) that rise up and demand change. I think many of us will continue the lobby, making a cogent argument, and hoping that something will change, but I think part of the equation is to broaden and empower our audiences to be advocates. That was the point I was trying to make. And yes, price plays a part, but it is only part of the equation.

        Finally, if you have any new ideas of how to get the U.S. system to make arts funding a priority, I for one would be eager to put them into practice.

        • One thing that would help the US system to make arts funding a priority would be for arts administrators to fully acknowledge how much our lack of a comprehensive public funding system hurts the arts, and to make that knowledge widely known with readily available, objective data such as I present above. How can the public become advocates for a comprehensive public funding system, when they do not know how much the lack of one is hurting us? Imparting this understanding with clear and continued conviction should be a *primary* goal of every arts administrator, and arts organization.

          Unfortunately, this is not being done. This educational work is an essential first step in the long process of moving our funding system to international norms. In this particular discussion, we need to include dialog about how deeply our funding system damages the artist/public relationship. Artists cannot fulfill their role as leaders, and the public cannot adequately engage in dialog about the arts, because the funding system they rely on is not only inherently dysfunctional, it is even destructive.

          (And one last, important note. This isn’t about Ms. Tweeddale or the Seattle Opera. They exceed US norms regarding activism for public arts funding. I’m addressing a general problem.)

    • Dopelganger- One should never confront Mr. Osborne with facts ,he appears immune to them. It seems
      once one has been bitten by the public funding tick you are forever destined to apply
      it to every situation – unfortunately there seems to be no cure for public funding disease .

  3. Hi Kelly!

    I’d love to know more about the Pew study finding that Millennials are the most isolated generation when it comes to meaningful relationships and experiences. I can’t say I read the entire 149-page report, but I hunted around the first 70 or so pages and couldn’t mind this mention. Do you remember in what section this was discussed?

    • Kelly Tweeddale says:

      Part of this is my interpretation of two parts of the study. About 35% of Millennials feel that technology makes people feel more isolated, but that means the majority think that technology brings friends closer together. But, if you refer to the part of the study that look at deep relationships such as marriage, Millennials put a high value on marriage and committed relationships, although only 1 in 5 say they have accomplished that. That is half the ratio of their parents at the same age. Look at Chapter 2 and 3 in the full study.

      I would say there is dissonance between the values and the current behavior and I think that is what is interesting to explore in developing meaningful relationships with this group. They obviously desire it, but the track record is not too good at this early stage.

  4. @Kelly Tweeddale

    That’s interesting, thanks! I wonder if that low marriage rate has anything to do with Millennials’ heightened distrust in others, compared to previous generations (pgs. 23-24), and that “only six-in-ten were raised by both parents–a smaller share than was the case with older generations.” (pg. 2) Based on stats like those, my totally unscientific assumption would be that Millennials are more cautious about a relationship as important as marriage, but their responses definitely indicate they desire it.

    Anyway, the arts-related point I guess I’m getting at is that Millennials know what they want, they just haven’t found it yet. (Honestly, I wonder how many arts organizations have actually *asked* Millennials what it is they want–like, a formal study, not just an inquiring Facebook status.) My hunch is that Millennials haven’t found anything to satisfy their desires not because art can’t fit the bill, but because few arts orgs are making a real effort or devoting real resources to targeting them, specifically, beyond throwing up a Facebook or Twitter page. My admittedly biased opinion (as a 25-year-old) is that Millennials are definitely capable of of being deeply engaged–in a relationship, in art, whatever. It’s a passionate demographic, excited about trying new things. But they’re wary of the inauthentic, and I think they’re smart enough to know when they’re being pandered to, vs. when they’re being targeted in a way that actively respects their intelligence and their interests– instead of a backhanded approach that rolls eyes at Millennials’ kooky iPhone-toting ways while still really, really wanting their money. (On that note, I was reading this Wallace Foundation study on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and what struck me the most was that their “After Hours” young adult initiative was spearheaded by…young adults. What a great way to design authentic outreach efforts that actually stand a chance of resonating within that demographic!)

    • Tamara,
      More and more arts ogranizations are asking/involving Millennials in developing programs. Thanks to the Wallace Foundation, the Seattle Art Museum has conducted focus groups, collected surveys and recruited a group of Millennials to help us. Want to know the two most interesting things we have found out so far? Young adults want a lot, and I do mean a lot, of intellectual stimulation with their social interaction; and they consider their museum membership part of their philanthropy. Also, our group, at least, is not fond of labels, like “young adults.” It strikes me as interesting that a generation that has their every click followed by marketeers is adverse to being categorized, but I admire their refusal to be stereotyped. So, we try to program choices. Implementing this initiative has changed the way we think. I don’t know if that is leading or following, but I do know we are learning.

      • @Carol – That’s really great to know; thanks for sharing this insight into SAM’s programming! As someone in the Millennial demographic, I really appreciate hearing about thoughtful, dedicated efforts to include my generation in arts organizations’ plans. And I’m not surprised by your discoveries! I don’t think Millennials are the most educated generation only because we want jobs; I think it ties into a legitimate desire for intellectual stimulation. And I can completely relate with the distaste for being pigeonholed by others. I suspect that has something to do with the fact that when we are categorized, it seems to most often be as something negative. We communicate and socialize differently because we’ve been raised as digital natives, but we’re still human! Our use of technology does not make us robots. We’re not that big a mystery; just ask us questions and be willing to listen–like SAM is, apparently. I’m sensitive to this subject because I worry when one person dismisses Millennials as being too fickle, too isolated, too whatever to bother devoting resources to, 10 others get conned into that mindset. And that sucks! It sucks for Millennials who deserve the opportunity to have their souls touched by art, and it sucks for arts organizations who are missing great opportunities to further their missions by recruiting an eager, largely untapped demographic.

  5. Tamara – thanks for digging deeper into Kelly’s perceptions about Millenials…I’m on the cusp between GenX and the Millenial set but I too would question the correlation between marriage rates and the ability to develop meaningful relationships. Just because more people get married doesn’t mean more people are having meaningful relationships, does it? But maybe that’s my cynicism showing (a GenX tm< I'm told.) Now at the risk of offending the whole Boomer generation (oh they are used to it by now, aren't they?), let me show my optimism: I would hazard that perhaps Millenials are holding off on marriage and/or committed relationships because there is actually LESS dissonance between their values and their current behavior than their was in their parents' generation.

    As Tamara says, authenticity will win the day with this demographic and that should be good news for every artist, arts leader, and arts org who walks what they talk…maybe there will even be enough public support for public funding of the arts to make a difference someday (I agree with William, whether this is a symptom or a cause of a struggling arts sector, it can't be ignored).

    The other good news is this might mean that we don't have to use pop culture (which is mostly the opposite of authentic, isn't it?), as a role model for the arts…no matter how many people watch (or phone in or text votes to) American Idol.

  6. V Villalobos says:

    RE: “Millennials put a high value on marriage and committed relationships, although only 1 in 5 say they have accomplished that. ” Has anyone considered that Milennials might be enlightened because they are delaying taking that final FOREVER step, (given the high rate of divorce in America) not out of fear but because they VALUE meaningful relationships and aspire for it?

    RE: Lead or Follow arguement tread, I mean trail, I think of Ballroom and partner dancing and how at a beginner level you are instructed to lead or follow, black and white. If you take interest in the art and delve in further you learn both roles and develop the craft to switch on the spot with the purpose of instructing or providing the best possible visual example. When you become passionate enough to desire competition or feel confident in your current role, higher level coaching will impress upon you at some point that at moments you are following/at moments you are leading. Its interactive people. People are interactive by nature. Organizations serve people and are run by people, how can we think in black and white terms? No, I am not advocating for a push for pro-am movement leadership style , but yes, I do believe leaders are leaders for a reason. I agree with William’s point on funding being overlooked. (Maybe older generations need new blood to re-inspire hope for the possibility of massive change.) I give props to the writer who has CREATED a SPACE for DIALOG and INSTIGATED voices from all levels…..My summary: more $=bonus for artists…more/less $=art regardless…BUT ITS NO EXCUSE!

  7. What does pop culture have that the arts sector doesn’t?

    1) Pop culture is easily accessed and easy to digest
    2) it doesn’t challenge so much as it entertains
    3) it has a minimal learning curve
    4) it frequently caters to the lowest common denominator
    5) it functions as a commodity, while simultaneously commodifying its audience
    6) it has ulterior motives that are not necessarily related to what it promotes
    7) it has a bottom line: profit
    8) and it has a marketing machine that sells the audience as readily as it creates it

    So, what does the arts sector have going for it? Traditionally, beauty, accessible meaning, and an easily apprehended appearance of craft. Art like that still exists, is still being produced, and it generates larger audiences than sectors devoted to more iconoclastic forms and motivations. But should those sectors forsake the audience they already have in an effort to generate a broader appeal, competing head on with entertainment and traditional aesthetics? Not in my opinion.

    This whole conversation seems so remote. Sure, “engagement” is an overused word, but all it really means–at least to me–is that we pay attention to the world around us, that we care about what’s happening, and that we produce and exhibit art in an intelligent, creative manner that speaks from that concern. Is this the same thing as being “engaged with our audience”? Or, for that matter, who is the audience? Did the Grateful Dead study the demographics of who their potential audience might be, or did they rise out of that demographic as a group of musicians who exemplified what was going on in a particular segment of the population? The answer seems pretty obvious to me: artists themselves are as much a part of the “audience” as anyone else. And the audience is an integral part of art, or at least the social currents that move it. But that doesn’t mean all audiences are of equal size or proportion. Nor are they attracted to the same things.

    Contemporary art forms aren’t always so easily accessible, or easy to understand and appreciate. If we live in an age where significant sectors of the art world seek to challenge existing norms and explore the world from an iconoclastic position at odds with popular culture, the audience is already limited. And this sector is pitted against a marketing regime that will stoop as low as it needs to dominate the market for “entertainment” dollars. Moreover, if contemporary art encourages–even requires–a person to think and be informed about what the material, process and conceptual structures of art potentially means, then popular culture is the easier choice for an awful lot of people. It’s like putting brocolli and a cookie in front of a kid and wondering which one he’ll choose. Or asking your average working stiff to choose between the NFL and MOMA. In other words, the audience for contemporary art is already limited.

    But this dividing line between artists and audience, or arts organizations and audience, isn’t that just a little bit artificial? People who are involved in the arts ARE the audience, or at least part of it. Being “engaged” means we are engaged with life as we experience it, and with the way in which art “speaks” to that experience. If an artist is part of a larger group of people (and we all are), then ideally the work being created will speak to and from that same group of people. But how does this apply to an arts organization that serves as intermediary–a showcase–for the art being produced, and the currents of life from which it is being produced? Doesn’t that organization also spring from the same demographic subset of the population? And if it thinks of itself as being somehow separate, or rarified, hasn’t it already removed itself from a more “down to earth” process of engagement? Are we engaged with life, or are we engaged with “success” and a desirable social status?

    So, yeah, pay attention to your audience. Or, better yet, stop thinking of yourself as being somehow removed or set aside from those whom you want to reach. Be inclusive, let your “audience” know that they’re an integral part of what’s going on. But always remember: it’s not size that matters—it’s relationship. Value the audience you have, nurture it, pay attention, and don’t set yourself apart from the crowd. As long as we think of “us” as the arts sector, and “them” as the audience, then maybe we’re already too disengaged to know what “engagement” really means.

  8. … please pardon the smiling typo in my previous comment!

  9. Mr.Benz could and should have stopped at point #4 – except to correct it to read” always caters to
    the lowest common denominator ” but he goes on and on .

  10. I’m not really convinced that the issue of the adequacy (or otherwise) of governmental financial support is of direct relevance to the question of engaging new audiences and getting first-timers through the doors. The only peripheral connection would be if there was a cut in funding earmarked for Outreach work. It’s a fundamental mistake to muddle Outreach work with marketing, and I’ll explain why! If we really believe (as I hope we do!) that the performing arts make a valuable contribution to civil society, and that access to them is an enriching experience in our lives – then encouraging *more* people to come to performances is only going to make the shortfalls in funding more acute, as supply fails to keep pace with demand. Of course the issue of governmental funding is a central question for every arts organisation, and it deserves extensive discussion. However, we’re putting the cart before the horse. Encouraging a deep-seated regard for the performing arts creates new advocates for them – and that’s the route to securing adequate and stable funding. It’s like electric cars – if enough people have them, then charging-points get built in public locations. And the performing arts need charging-points!

    I think Kelly has made some very valuable points in this article – so much so, that I translated the article and sent it to my Director! We must stop apologising for the arts – they need no such apologists. It’s rather – as sometime Arts Educator Karen Dust once said – a process of demystification. This can easily become a self-defeating exercise – I lose count of the number of times I’ve seen educators telling kids (and adults too) how terribly difficult and inaccessible Shostakovich or Beethoven are. And guess what? The kids go away believing what they were told! (Someone has done exactly this in the messages above, btw). This approach is just plain wrong, I’m afraid – and most frequently it arises from a false attitude of self-worth in those who advocate it… it’s that old “barbarians, barbarians at the gates – and only I can save Western civilisation single-handed!”. But take a listen to the hugely complicated orchestral scores in modern mainstream movies – which people lap-up without the slightest need for an “explanation”, far less a justification. It’s that “don’t touch! this is only for the cognoscenti! not for you!” museum-keeper approach.

    Kids thrive on what is great, inspiring and amazing. And Janacek, Ives, Shostakovich and Handel are great, inspiring and amazing! So don’t put barriers in front of them! DO touch! Pick it up and swallow it, if you like?! Sing it, play it, pick out the tune on a guitar or a saxophone, come and take part. It’s what people like Graham Vick have been doing at Birmingham Opera in Britain – where people from all works of life come together to give all-comers performances of operas, both mainstream (OTELLO) and obscure (Monteverdi’s IL RITORNO DI ULISSE IN PATRIA, which was presented in Birmingham as ULYSSES COMES HOME). I see the sneerers and would-be “guardians” of the arts furling their brows in horror – but Vick’s OTELLO beat Covent Garden to cream of the 5-star reviews in the London “Times”… superbly sung, rivetingly staged, and fabulously played under Stephen Barlow’s experienced baton.

    Our experience here in Moscow is that you have to meet new audiences half-way – not by dumbing-down, but by getting out there with what you do, and taking it to them where they are. We’ve taken Mozart, Shostakovich and Beethoven into schools, colleges, universities, and community centres. We’ve hauled Menotti, Handel and Monteverdi on long-distance trains (ever tried humping a harpsichord through a main rail station in the rush-hour?) to small communities who have no live music at all. I’m getting together a touring staging of THE SOLDIER’S TALE right now, which will be going out soon – accompanied by interactive programmes in which kids get to enact some of the scenes and take a try at being the Soldier, the Devil, and the Narrator. Kids doing Stravinsky? Sure! And why not? :)
    Neil McGowan, Head of Outreach, Svetlanov State Symphony Orchestra of Russia (GASO)

    • We can’t build interest in the arts when people do not have the opportunity to even hear them. There can be no artist/public dialog if performances are not even happening. Appreciation and funding are not a chicken and egg process; they work hand in hand and develop together at the same time.

      Availability is a key factor. It sets a cycle in motion. Public funding leads to increased availability, education, and outreach, thus increased interest in the arts and increased funding. The converse is also true. Less funding leads to less availability, education, outreach, thus less interest and less funding. The latter cycle is at work in the USA, and has been for at least a couple decades.

      Most Americans would have to travel hundreds of miles to hear an opera in a real opera house with a genuinely professional company. How can they develop interest in opera when it seldom available and/or at a great distance? For contrast, I would encourage every arts administrator here to take a look at this astounding map of the German opera house landscape:


      Our private funding system does not work. It leaves the arts in shambles, which is seen in countless examples. Consider the institutions that have more recently gone bankrupt:
      the New York City Opera, the Boston Opera, and the orchestras in Philadelphia, Detroit, Syracuse, Honolulu, New Mexico, Kansas City, San Diego, Louisville, Colorado Springs, the Florida Symphony, and San Jose. The truth could not be more obvious. Nor the denial of arts administrators more ridiculous.

      We will not genuinely solve any of the problems under discussion until we develop a public funding system. The first step is for arts administrators to understand this fact, and then educate the public about the need for a comprehensive public funding system like ALL other developed countries have long had. If your wealthy, Republican board members try to stop you, you’ll need to find other ways.

  11. Poor Mr. Osborne , he really does have a problem with government support for citizen pastimes . He would like public government money (taxes ?) to support special pastimes for the few by an indifferent majority . Boston Opera , NYC opera etc . did not fail due to failure of private funding ,they along with his other examples failed and are failing because they couldn’t draw an audience large enough to sustain them , the audience they could draw would not or could not dip into their pockets to keep their pleasures alive and healthy . Every mentioned group is a form of”business ” ,tickets are sold, salaries paid etc . to follow Mr. Osbornes’ begging cup in hand -if a restaurant fails due to lack of patrons should public funding enter to save it -food preparation nowadays being considered an art – I’m willing to bet he would be outraged that “public ” funding was used to save a failed eatery business “…. educating the public to the need of public funding for opera etc . is nothing but a con job in convincing them that ” highly salaried” singers screaming at each other is worth public funding (taxes)” supporting the arts” being the catch phrase , after all no one wants to be thought of as a philistine . The arts are important only to those that find it important .. and they should support it with all their resources and by doing so set an example for the yahoos as to what they are missing and if it works you may build a respectable sized audience for your pleasures and not need public funding . To cite the european support of the arts is clever but disingenuous – the european example has little to do with the appreciation of the arts and Mr. Osborne of all people should know that .

    • - the european example has little to do with the appreciation of the arts

      And what motivates the European example, then – if not appreciation of the arts? A concerned European would be interested to know!

      • I assume Mr. McGowan you are the european -and as a european you probably have travelled from
        your home base of Moscow to Warsaw , Vienna, Budapest Prague, Zurich , Munich etc. etc . and
        then to ask what motivates european government support of the arts is to pretend (I hope ) a
        lack of insight . I was waiting for some profound insight from Mr. Osborne , but am more than willing to learn from a concerned european .

        • Yes, I’ve already said I’m a European. And I have travelled to opera venues all over Europe, and beyond. You claimed that “the european example has little to do with appreciation of the arts”, and I am calling you on that. After you, it was *you* who started lecturing us about what goes in European opera houses. Did you intend it to be as xenophobic and derogatory as it sounds – or did it just come out like that? Do you write from first-hand experience here – or from a purely hypothetical point of view? Do you have any practical knowledge of the arts funding policies of European governments? What makes you believe such a disparate group of countries would have a uniform policy? Perhaps you think Europe is a country? I notice you don’t even use a capital letter for it – yet consider yourself well-versed in culture?

          • Apart from your petulant response to my using the lower case letter e in spelling european I had hoped you would explain the difference between Mr. Osbornes’ view and the european
            view . , but no such luck – you are every busy noting the spelling as a sign of not being well
            versed in culture and if that is a sign of what culture means to you it is a long road you must travel . Contrary to your statement at no time did I lecture about what goes on in european opera houses , Having conducted and appeared often as soloist is my only first hand experience but I suppose that is negated by the lower case “e” I prefer to use . Just
            so I don’t appear “nie kulturny” europe is a continent unless you found it otherwise .

          • Wrong.

            You clearly wrote the following, which I cut/paste for your convenience:
            ” the european example has little to do with the appreciation of the arts ”

            This is now consigned to the category of unproven hearsay speculation. You were offered the opportunity to justify the xenophobic hatred you posted – you’ve rejected that opportunity. Now go back to your pin-up poster of Mutt Romney – whose europhobe views you perfectly espouse. Continents are correctly spelt with capital letters – as anyone who had completed basic literacy could have told you. Found your WMD yet, have you? ROFL!!

      • It is not without reason you are in Russia .

    • Opera isn’t dying. Of the 1000+ opera composers performed in the last five seasons, over 500 are still alive! America ranks extremely low in per capita opera performances, but 40% of the ten most performed living opera composers are American. Philip Glass is the most performed living opera composer in the word. Adams comes in 3rd, Heggie 4th, and Floyd 9th. This is one more sign that with adequate support, opera could be a very American art form. For details of the above see the Operabase website.

      • Jennifer Low says:

        I support your point entirely, based on what I know about arts support in different European countries (I don’t know all of them!). They fund the arts much more; they make sure ticket prices are reasonable; they promote the arts so that residents of a town are as proud of their concert halls as we are of our athletic stadiums. I saw this pride first-hand when I visited Prague last year, and I have reason to believe that their pride in their opera houses and theaters are not alone.
        One doesn’t take pride in what one can’t afford, and one seldom experiments with an experience that costs a great deal to purchase. In many European countries, the promotion of culture is not left to for-profit organizations to the extent that it is here. I believe you are right in saying that the arts are more popular there. The government’s attitude towards the arts has a strong positive effect on the public’s response.

    • Governments have been supporting the arts in one form or another since the beginning of civilization. The reasons are so complex and multi-faceted that they cannot be defined. The beauty of art, its role in building community, its spiritual impulses, its sense of transcendence, and it capacity to offer societies identity are among countless reasons governments support art. Nevertheless, art is by nature ineffable, so the motivations for supporting it will never be definable. If you can define why something should be supported, its probably not art. Its like asking a person in love what love is. They can’t answer, but they sure know their in love. We thus note than we people ask the unanswerable question of why governments should support the arts, their intentions are not only naïve, but often specious and manipulative.

      It might be more useful to ask why the arts are not supported in the USA. Perhaps the main reason is that arts world leans strongly left, and so the political right suppresses it. The USA defines the rightwing extreme among developed countries. The evidence is obvious in many areas such as our militarism, our lack of national health insurance, and the death penalty. The politicians who attack public arts funding in the USA would be considered political extremists in any other developed country.

      This situation will not change in the USA until the arts community accepts its leading role in changing it. There is probably no other single group who should be more responsible for leading these changes than arts administrators, and yet they barely even address the topic.

      • Well, I’d more or less agree. However, the former Soviet Union didn’t see any dichotomy between a thriving network of regional opera-houses and a bristling nuclear arsenal and more millions of conventional forces than it could even find barracks for, ehem ;)

  12. If your wealthy, Republican board members try to stop you, you’ll need to find other ways.

    Your examples are all taken from a purely American model. Our orchestra is in Moscow, Russia – we don’t have any Republican board members, nor indeed any Democrats either :) I find it curious you imagine that “arts administrators” don’t want secure funding? Why do you believe they oppose it?

    The *actual* topic under discussion here is not one of politics. It’s about encouraging people in the 18-30 age range to give classical music a chance – a first chance, for many of them. What strategies and methodologies would encourage them to put a toe in the water?

    Regarding the point of communities who have poor provision – or no provision – of classical music, then the answer is that Mahomed must go to the mountain. And we do! I wonder if you even read my post before replying to it, Mr Osbourne? Did you see where I mentioned getting on long-distance trains to perform operas in far-lying locations? I can promise you there’s no glamour in jumping off night-trains in remote locations that don’t even have built platforms (you climb right down onto the tracks in a place like Kurchatov) at 05:30am. But the welcome we had from the local audience there made it all worthwhile. They have a community centre where we performed. We rehearsed in the morning, we did a workshop for kids in the afternoon, and a show in the evening – then a fast ride to another town nearby which has a night-train back to Moscow near midnight. Government money? Hello? Even in Russia there’s no government money for this. A local furniture factory in the town sponsored the event – because they believe in the value of the performing arts – although the town has no orchestra, no opera, no theatre. We have to drag our costumes, props, some bits of scenery and all the instruments with us. Luckily they met us on arrival and helped.

    So please stop reading your lectures to “Arts Administrators”, Mr Osborne?

    • Neil, I have not referred to Russia as a model for public arts funding. It is partly European, but it would be ridiculous to take Russia as a European norm for arts funding. The ecomonic changes and turmoil that have occurred there make it an unreliable model because everything is in transition. And a large part of the country is better defined as Asian.

      Some Eastern European countries, however, have faired very well. The Czech Republic, for example, has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. That’s the same number as the USA, even though the USA’s population is 32 times larger. Poland has 5 cities in the top 100 with only 1/8th the population as the USA. Prague has more opera performances a year than NYC, even though it only has about 1/7th the population

      For other comparisons, Austria has 7 cities in the top 100, with only 1/40th the population. Germany, with 1/3rd the population has an astouding 47. These are the models I’m speaking of, and they are good cause for “lecturing” arts administrators about their silence about our lack of a public funding system. As I mention above, THEY are the ones who should be giving lectures on this topic.

      • I agree that Russia is not a typical European country in terms of arts funding. One of the USSR’s rare benign legacies was an enlightened arts funding policy that built concert-halls, opera & ballet theatres, galleries, museums, drama theatres and cultural centres the length and breadth of the country. Public feeling being what it is, it’s far more unpopular to close something that already exists than to open something new – so that network of cultural venues is largely intact. It mainly survives because it has broad-based public support – people believe these venues should be there. Some are maybe less active than they were, but many others have gone on to develop still further.

        As far as the “turmoil” in Russia is concerned, a well-regarded American film-maker famously added his own lines to a film-script, to the effect that the turmoil in Italy under the Borgias was a more creative period than brotherly love in Switzerland and the cuckoo-clock that resulted :)

        BTW, Russia’s many hundreds of opera-houses may not all figure in the stats you quote.

        • A similar situation existed in East Germany, which had more symphony orchestras per capita than any other country in the world. They wanted to demonstrate the superiority of Communism over West German Social Democracy. Even by West German standards it was considered excessive after the wall came down, so about 15% of the East German orchestras were eliminated. Some were also redundant because they were very close to other orchestras but had been separated by the wall.

          I like your point that once people have cultural institutions they don’t want to let them go. I doubt we Yanks would be any different. And I would really like to know more about Russian opera houses. Operabase only lists three Russian cities in the top 100 for number of performances, but given Soviet history, I suspect there are a lot of houses.

          • Although that may have been the net result, I don’t think that the money poured into promoting culture in the GDR (or the USSR either) was about trying to beat the FDR at its own game. It was an idea borrowed from the USSR, which had been in the Socialism game since 1917, and supplied the blueprints for other new socialist states. The idea was to supplant religious worship with something “of greater value” – ie culture and the arts. It would give the people “something better to believe in”. Of course it’s questionable whether the people really *wanted* the form of culture they were fed… but it was also “safe” and “controllable”. Lenin liked opera. Trotsky was not only fond of operetta, but he even dated a coloratura soprano for some time. These were cultural predelictions the new leaders of socialism thought people *ought* to like – and they saw them as “morally improving”.

            Of course they hadn’t seen any operas staged by Francesca Zambella or Peter Sellars… :)

          • PS about Russian opera-houses in the provinces, I think OperaBase has no-one with the language skills, interest or contacts to keep track of what they are doing. All of these cities have active opera theatres –
            Moscow (six opera + one operetta), St Petesburg (4 opera), Ekaterinburg, Novosibirsk (an enormous soviet-era opera theatre), Perm’ (known as the “opera laboratory” and specialising in experimental works), Kirov, Kazan’, Ulan-Ude, Krasnodar, Sochi (a huge tsarist-era venue called The Winter Theatre), Ufa, Lipetsk (brand-new and not open yet… errr, I’m staging the premiere there, so I should know..), Kursk, Voronezh, Saratov (has done several experimental stagings and often wins awards), Chelyabinsk, Stavropol, Tomsk, Omsk, Stavropol, Chita, Yakutsk (I heard it had closed), Komsomolsk, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk. (and probably others I have forgotten).

            There’s a longer list of cities who have standing orchestras but no opera/ballet theatre – for example even tiny Vladimir has a powerful symphony orchestra, run by an excellent conductor (Artem Markin), and they stage operas in semi-concert versions.

            Some surprisingly large cities do not have full-time or even part-time opera companies – for example Irkutsk, which is in the Top Three Siberian cities, and a wealthy place. In theory Ulan-Ude tours its productions to Irkutsk. Similarly Krasnoyarsk is supposed to get touring shows from Novosibirsk – but in practice they don’t, and nor do they have a symphony orchestra either. The Head of the Conservatory there is in utter despair.

  13. Neil, perhaps you could contact the owner of Operabase, Mike Gibbs, and offer to help him, or perhaps direct some people to him who could. The ignorance in the West of Russia’s incredible cultural life and the astounding quality of its musicians is tragic. My wife was one of the judges for the Rimsky-Korsakov trombone competition in St. Petersburg about four years ago. People don’t want to believe that one of top five young trombonists in the world is playing in an orchestra in Siberia.

    Our perspectives can become so blinkered. Even Turkey, which is still a developing country, has a state opera in all of its major cities. Please try to help Mike Gibbs. We really need to know more about Russia’s fantastic cultural life. Our lack of contact with it is an incredible loss for the world community.

    • Siberia is a much misunderstood place on so very many levels – not only musical. There are several excellent orchestras in Siberia, whose pedigree goes back to the middle of the C20th.

      I wonder if anyone really has the time for the labour of love of updating the schedules and repertoires of all of Russia’s provincial opera houses, though? It would be a fulltime job for someone.

  14. Thanks, Kelly, for sharing your take and the interesting posts that followed. I do work in the Canadian performing arts sector, as well as other (commercial) industries as a consultant; hence my comments come from a Canadian experience. Just a few points I thought worth expanding on:

    I find the idea of the “either…or”, either followership or leadership, misleading, when the actual question on this site seems to really revolve around how to get paying audiences to arts events.

    My comments are strictly about arts organizations (it makes no sense to me to put artists and arts organizations together as the original question does – the issues and concerns are different).

    Lead and follow
    First off: leadership only exists when there are followers. Most people do some leading and some following in their lives. I submit that most organizations do, too. Organizations can lead where they have strength (e.g. programming) and follow where they are weak (e.g. contemporary marketing). Leadership is not about knowing it all, as someone else has said on this site; it is about listening, looking and paying attention to a dynamic environment and adapting, responding and, yes, leading in that environment.

    Following should not be reduced to “following the tastes of the current audience”, but take account of the ways in which audiences, current and potential, behave, and understand more about how their values, beliefs and attitudes affect how they process an arts organization’s offer. Now, the sector needs to contemplate how to effectively communicate its value propositions and how to engage in value innovation for a much savvier and highly connected future audience.

    Interestingly, in my research experience it is often the not so young who seek such innovation and risk-taking on the artistic, the programming side, too.

    Popular culture and failure
    Popular culture does not follow the audience taste any more than the “high brow” arts being discussed here. In my view it tends to lead the audience to new experiences and expressions. As a result, there surely is a high failure rate in terms of artists who do not succeed in achieving the success they might desire. The question to contemplate might well be who bears the risk of this failure and is that failure readily available in the “high brow” arts world.

    To borrow from another failure-riddled sector: Steve Jobs created all kinds of failures before he created the commercial success and rabid fandom some have come to so admire. Indeed, Apple created brand new ways of engaging in popular culture so that much of the revenue for the company today comes for the arts and culture sector. In effect, I’d argue that the traditional music industry’s failure to reinvent itself along-side the technological changes that opened the way for Apple to extract such great revenue.

    Price restricts access
    I have been collecting compelling evidence of the intrinsic values and benefits of arts and cultural participation. When the belief in these values and benefits is transferred directly to the ticketed performing arts things become murky. The unshakable importance of the arts as a public good is challenged when box office revenues must be achieved; price always restricts access which suggests the public good takes a lesser role.

    When audience engagement is top of mind, the discussion in my view should explicitly acknowledge that it is about maximizing revenue, how to segment the audience, how to develop effective marketing and communications, how to create your brand to elicit the desire in others to follow you. There are examples inside the arts, for example Cirque du Soleil or Apple where value innovation has driven the creation of incredible new value.

    Technology-enabled conversations
    “Many arts institutions even allow their audience members to write their own critiques on the organizational website. This is a scary trend.” Michael Kaiser, President at Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, blogging on HuffPost.

    My view:
    It is neither scary nor new that arts patrons share their thoughts, reactions and recommendations about performing arts events.

    Yes, the speed of this sharing is near instant in the age of mobile technologies. Smart organizations would want to harness this user generated content (UCG) on their own platforms as much as possible and indeed, they’d participate.

    Glad to hear Seattle Opera is such a smart organization.

  15. @Jim Benz
    For Jim’s list of what pop culture has– I agree. And in the case of Kelly’s suggestion, the arts should try to be perceived as “pop culture,” that’s not really a satisfying mission of an arts organization, is it? To have the inspiration of an opera be accepted in large but fleeting. Operas are three hours long and pop songs are three minutes long. We can try to walk closer, side by side, with pop culture, then. Not mimic, but relate. Perhaps like opera stars being interviewed and being able to connect with a pop culture generation by having them understand that their inspiration for their art is something they understand as well, maybe rock music… instead of trying to make the opera star a pop star. I appreciate the arts and it seems like we’re so close, but just barely missing our chance to connect with the audience and engage them. I’m an artist and have taken friends to performances and am disappointed when they have nothing to say or comment about them. But I think, surely, there’s something in your mind you want to speak about! But alas, sometimes people want to be entertained and not thought-provoked.

    • Originally Posted By Selena@Jim Benz Operas are three hours long and pop songs are three minutes long.

      Hi Selena!
      That may be true in some cases, but not in others. Although I wouldn’t argue that genres like opera, rock opera, musical, operetta, performance, art-house musical etc don’t ‘exist’, what I would say is that the borders between them are very blurred and permeable. Let me give you a few examples :)
      Most people would say that the Gilbert & Sullivan stage pieces are ‘operettas’ – but in fact Sullivan called them ‘operas’, and he was very firm about that too. But how do they differ from musicals? If you watch classic broadway musicals like ‘Let Them Eat Cake’, the crossover from Gilbert & Sullivan is very clear – one grew directly into the other. And they go straight into The Marx Brothers. I’d defy anyone listening blind to the first ten minutes of ‘The Woman In White’ to say that they’re not sitting in an opera theatre (although it all goes downhill rapidly after that). There are fully-scored rock operas and musicals that are flirting continuously with the operatic genre. Then there’s Sondheim, which many people would say is opera anyhow? And indeed ‘Sweeney Todd’ is mostly usually performed in opera houses, because they have the right resources on hand to stage it (orchestra, large stage, experienced singers etc).

      Although it might make an emotive argument to put “Die Frau Ohne Schatten’ in one corner and Belinda Carlisle in the other… the reality is that there is a whole musical continuum between those disparate genres, and they are often mutually compatible. Indeed performers in one sometimes appear in the other! Peter Hofmann had a career which combined the leading roles in Wagnerian opera at Bayreuth with appearing as the lead singer with his own heavy metal band.

      It’s worth remembering that they once *were* the same. In Handel’s day there was no ‘classical music’ at all – there was just music. The opera stars of Handel’s operas were the rock stars of their age – complete with astounding costumes, complicated stage machinery and lighting effects. It was only later that the genres went in slightly different directions :)