The American Association of Museums' reports in its Museum Financial Information 2009 that museums with separate marketing budgets dedicate anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent of annual expenses, depending on total organizational budget, to promoting attendance, memberships or products. The lower end of the range likely doesn't include personnel. Bottom line: museums spend on balance $1.29 per visitor per year to get them in the door, on the membership rolls or purchasing from the shop.
The Theater Communications Group tracks similar data in its Theatre Facts surveys. The 2008 survey reports a range of 10.8 percent to 12.6 percent of total operating budget spent on marketing/customer service/concessions (including personnel). However, Joy Zinoman, founding artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Studio Theatre, notes, "A relationship to your neighborhood, the idea of theatre being very tied to a place, is a very different notion.... That costs different money and has different implications.”
Most of us tend to think of audiences as those who show up. Indeed they are that, but they are more than that. Despite the current economy, which has sliced marketing budgets and staffs at those institutions fortunate to have marketing budgets and staffs in the first place, paying attention to the care and feeding of audiences is more often an after-thought than a top priority.
Chad Bauman takes on this question for theaters here and here in his blog Arts Marketing. The comments to these posts are good reading, too.
Arts organizations lacking the expertise of marketing staff are left to their own devices to think about audience development and many just don't or can't. Too busy with mounting productions, exhibitions, classes or festivals, the last questions asked - if asked at all - have to do with audience engagement and communication. As Bauman and some of his commentators note, often programming is established without input from the folks who are charged with marketing it, much less without input from potential consumers.
The health of arts and cultural organizations surely depends on its audiences, not just to fill seats, but for long term personal connection as board members, volunteers and donors.
Photo: I Am The Audience from vaquey