Three Bay Area arts organizations receive grants to build new audiences

Performing arts organizations worldwide are beset by the twin problems of aging and dwindling audiences. With that in mind, the Wallace Foundation on Wednesday launched a new initiative to provide $52 million to be shared by 26 organizations in 18 cities to find and build new audiences.

Three of the recipients of the New York City organization’s funding are in the Bay Area: San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances and the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Other recipients are dance and opera companies, orchestras, theaters and multidisciplinary arts institutions across the country.

The initiative is called Building Audiences for Sustainability, and it is aimed at “developing practical insights into how arts organizations can successfully expand their audiences.”

San Francisco Performances plans to use the initial “learning cycle” funding to build future audiences “by targeting The City’s growing community of downtown-centric professionals who are open to new cultural experiences.”

The initial amount is $352,000, of which $60,000 will be used for audience research activities. Ruth Felt, president of the organization, thanked the Wallace Foundation’s “strong endorsement and generous support, which will enable us to learn and to strengthen our work presenting exciting live performances and building audiences for innovative and important young artists.”

Cal Performances will receive an initial grant of $500,000 “to seek to broaden participation in 18- to 30-year-olds, the millennials,” considering that soon this generation will make up almost 40 percent of the U.S. population. The age group is currently estimated to be less than 10 percent of Cal Performances’ audiences, even though it operates on the UC Berkeley campus.

The Oakland East Bay Symphony’s share of $65,000 is meant for initial research, to be followed by additional grants yet to be announced. Here too the emphasis is “to deepen and sustain relationships with new audiences,” especially considering the East Bay’s increasingly diverse population.

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