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Finding Your Audience

I am the director of an organization called Accessible Contemporary Music that exists to promote the music of contemporary composers through, among other things, live performances each year in several different venues around town. As such I am always working to expand and diversify the audience for our concerts and to introduce new people to contemporary Classical music. In my mind there is an ideal but highly elusive group of people I am especially interested in reaching that I think of as FINDs, short for Friendly, Intelligent, Neglected and Diverse.

FINDS are generally educated, curious, open to new experiences and are interested in the arts but don’t necessarily interact with them on a regular basis. Because they don’t regularly attend plays or go to concerts or museums, FINDs can be hard to reach in the traditional way, but they make perfect audience members because when they do come out they are enthusiastic and happy, even grateful, to have been exposed to a new experience. And if you can get them out the first time, they are likely to return.

But finding them is difficult. They are like skittish animals on a nature show. There is no one habitat in which they can be found, no one hobby or defining characteristic pinpointing them. However, I recently encountered a whole herd of FINDs at once and it got me thinking.

My wife is a designer of fashionable handbags for women who bike and as such has become very active in the biking community. When she was invited to go on a “cocktail bike ride” and asked me to come, it sounded like a lot of fun.

The idea was that we would dress sharp from the waist up but wear practical clothing that allowed for safe and comfortable biking from the waist down. We would bike to four tony restaurants or bars, have a drink at each and then hopefully not crash on the way home.

We showed up to the first place a little late and sat at a table with three other people. We ordered a light dinner and drinks and started talking. We were sitting with a graphic designer, a lawyer and a Columbia College professor. As I talked to them and told them about ACM it became clear to me that these people were FINDs. They did not know much about contemporary Classical music but were very interested when I talked about it. They had been to the Modern Wing and a play here and there but did not regularly attend arts events.

Everyone I met that night was the same way. Without exception they were intelligent, interested in the arts and open to new experiences but completely under-utilized. I exchanged cards with everyone I talked to and several of them joined ACM’s email list. I have seen three of the people I met that night at our concerts and they were thrilled to have been turned on to something they didn’t know about before. Each of them has brought someone else and has told me that they now forward our email newsletters to their circle of friends.

I have found that promoting our live events face to face in social situations is an effective and lasting way to create a connection with this type of under-utilized audience member who would never have heard about the organization otherwise.

Since that night I have encountered FINDs in wine tastings, book clubs and in my Spanish class. I joined the Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and met them at our community events. I have seen them taking guitar classes at the Old Town School. There is a lecture series at a bar called the Map Room that is especially popular with FINDs.

The truth is that FINDs are everywhere but they have to be engaged on their own territory. They don’t respond to mass mailings or impersonal marketing techniques. Friends and socializing are important to them and they want to feel they’re part of a community. It’s a lot of work to go to these events after business hours but I have found that it’s worth it. FINDs are loyal, curious, often connected to large networks and they have been mostly overlooked by arts groups. They are the audience we as arts promoters most need to tap into.

Written for the Wallace Foundation Audience Engagement Blog


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