I’m very happy to announce the latest ArtsJournal blog, Creative Destruction, by orchestra conductor John Dodson. I met John last summer while I was working on a story for Symphony magazine on new ways of running orchestras. John is music director of the tiny Adrian Symphony in Adrian, Michigan, pop. 21,703. In the past seven years he’s remade the orchestra with executive director Susan Hoffman (now at the Cleveland Orchestra) with some pretty radical ideas.
The orchestra went from losing money and playing in empty halls to being the toast of the town and full houses. From that story [sadly not online]:
On average, the orchestra sells ninety percent of its available seats, and executive director Susan Hoffman says statistics show that over the course of a season an astonishing 31 percent of the town’s residents come to at least one of the orchestra’s programs (the industry average is 2.5 percent)…
They constructed an informal concert series around the
wish-list of a single regular guy. They broke up their concerts into eight
different genres and made sure that the look and feel for each genre were
different. Every concert got something added on. Discovering, for example,
that there was no place to eat after
chamber music concerts, they set up free food in the lobby and saw attendance
go from 35 to 350. A pops series featuring Broadway show tunes includes
opportunities to meet the performers.
This orchestra loves a good party and takes advantage of every
opportunity to throw one.
As the venues filled up, concert-goers began calling for
tickets earlier and earlier. The average age of the audience dropped by “about
two decades.” Business sponsorships increased 50 percent, the number of
individuals giving money to the orchestra soared, and the budget jumped to
$540,000. The orchestra started rewarding its most loyal followers with cards
they could give to friends that offered them free tickets. Who better to sell
your orchestra than those who are its biggest fans?
There’s a lot that larger arts organizations could learn from the way Adrian does business. John’s a thoughtful guy who thinks through his strategies in interesting ways. I’m thrilled to have him join ArtsJournal to share some of those ideas.