Diversifying Chicago's Audiences: A Progress Report

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 12, No 1 (Winter 2001)

Research by Johnson & Associates Marketing

June 2000, 89 pages, The Arts Marketing Center of the Arts & Business Council of Chicago.

Diversifying Chicago's Audiences is based on findings from a sustained effort to build and diversify arts audiences for Chicago's arts and cultural organizations. Earlier publications from this effort presented research findings about audience diversity and focus group results from inquiry into attitudes about arts attendance by frequent, occasional, and rare arts audiences members. This June 2000 "Progress Report" now contributes case studies of audience diversity efforts by six significant yet very different cultural organizations: Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Old Town School of Music, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, and Victory Gardens Theater.

Chicago's context presents these organizations with a rapidly growing Latino population and a shifting of African American communities into new neighborhoods. The six stories address the challenge of these specific changes, and provide excellent examples of sustained work by organizations deeply committed to inclusiveness. Chicago's texture shines through the discussion, but the report is relevant to many cities and regions.

While each of the profiled institutions has a national (often international) reputation, each also has a distinctive history and artistic focus. "Diversity" is a shared concern, but the case study organizations approach it with different goals and in very different ways. For example, while most of these organizations sought to increase their African American and Latin American audience members, Muntu Dance Theatre sought to attract more Caucasian audience members to its Chicago performances, so that its "at home" audiences would more closely resemble audiences it reached on tour.

The case studies include brief organizational histories and mission statements, detailed descriptions of efforts to diversify audiences, and demographic information gathered in market research. Each, then, ends with a summary of the organization's "Steps to Diversity" and "Lessons Learned." The report's mode of presentation offers a clear rendering of each organization's special qualities and challenges, and provides well-organized, accessible summaries. One note of advice to readers of this engaging document: don't skip over the "lessons learned" just because you've read an organization's profile and diversity story. Often the lessons expand upon and illuminate the stories rather than merely summarizing key points.

The report was sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, the Woods Fund of Chicago, and the Illinois Arts Council.

Reviewed by Frances Phillips