Cultivating the audiences and performers of the future

Youth is front and centre this month with National Youth Week. AMPAG finds out how two AMPAG members — one from the west (WAO) and one from the south (ASO) — are attracting a new generation by inviting them to help shape their offering and deepening and broadening engagement.

Cultivating the audiences and performers of the future

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AMPAG members have invested a lot of time, energy and passion in a range of youth-oriented programs that have wide scope, a broad reach and offer an inspirational depth of learning. Reaching this generation is critical as these young people are the audiences, artists and performers of tomorrow.

The high level of youth engagement generated by West Australian Opera in just three years may be a surprise for some who associate Opera with an older set, but Education Manager Terasa Letizia says their youth program has gone from strength to strength.

‘We have now introduced Opera Youth Nights, which has seen our ambassadors, their classmates and other young people gather for a pre-performance event where they can meet members of the cast prior to the performance and mingle with other like-minded students. … We love that we are having repeat attendees and acknowledge the work our ambassadors have put in to see them grow, acting as champions to enlist more attendees each season.’

 Terasa says the Youth Ambassador program ensures that WAO interacts with young people in a way that is respectful and authentic.

‘We are working together to remove barriers that prevent young audiences attending an opera performance and ensuring that that there are a variety of touchpoints along the way— whether through singing workshops, make-up workshops or information sessions with our Production, Marketing and Administrative teams.’

In the south, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Advocates program is designed to deliver a holistic view of the organisation. Audience Development Coordinator Kane Moroney explains that the program is transparent in its approach, equipping young members with the knowledge to really understand the environment that our orchestras operate in.

‘They become members of the big ol’ ASO family, and meet artists, our staff, attend concerts and organise engagement events for our younger audiences. The transparency of the program and their exposure to all that we do helps to equip them with a sense of responsibility and a deep connection to the organisation. They start to understand the challenges faced not only by the ASO but the arts on a broader scale and are able to frame their contribution and efforts in a really meaningful way. This program equips them with a community to strengthen their voice. I like to equate it to the way that sports fans support their team. This, for young people, is how they can be involved to support their orchestra.’

As with WAO, Kane says the program has affected the way the company engages with younger audiences.

‘ASO isn’t just a source of entertainment or artistic stimulation, but a welcoming place where they are able to influence the conversation, get up close and personal with what we do and help to drive our engagement with audiences both new and existing. A place that young people can find a niche, a space that resonates with the way they would like to engage with the organisation, whether that be as a concertgoer or as an active participant in our operations.

‘I believe that the narrative is beginning to shift. Young people are beginning to realise that the orchestra isn’t a closed door that only opens for the privileged few. An orchestra is a place where everyone is welcome and with the help of programs like the Advocates, they’re able to identify with an audience that they can see themselves belonging to.’

WAO’s Terasa says the company is seeing a gradual increase in young people attending WAO works.

‘Diversity in audiences is married with diversity in product. We are shifting our thinking and encouraging our audiences to actively engage in our performances as well as going out to where youth audiences can be found. We’re collaborating with like-minded brands on Instagram and creating conversations by place activation such as in shopping centres, cool eateries and unique pop up events. We want our future audiences to see an opera performance as a destination.  A place to experience incredible music and powerful stories that evoke conversation whether it be through anger, sadness or humour.  Our Opera Youth Ambassadors are assisting us in securing future audiences.’

The WAO Youth Ambassadors themselves are enthusiastic about the experience:

‘I felt like I belonged to something I would have never felt without this opportunity and exposure to Opera.’Paris Cusack.

‘I believe that the program appeals a great deal to young people because of the friendly, safe and welcoming environment created by the staff that run it. It also gives young people a chance to experience new things and to learn about a really interesting industry which is a great thing. …. It also gives young people a voice and responsibility in promoting and discussing opera and its parameters.’ Ruth Burke.

‘This program appeals to me because it is different from any other program in Western Australia and certainly for students who are involved in music, this program is definitely for them!’Oliver Freyne.

In the case of the Advocates program, Kane believes the appeal for youth lies in the sense of purpose and the sense of contribution in a non-monetary way that drives the initiative.

‘There’s a big gap in the way that we believe young people want to interact with our arts organisations. For a generation that isn’t on super salaries and yet wants to contribute, the way they want to do this isn’t necessarily through donating money but instead through offering their time and skills to causes that they care about.

‘This program appeals because it opens the door, it says to a younger generation that you’ve got a place here and we want you to be involved; your voice is important because you are the future. It invites them to have their say and to leave their mark on our activity, and this is something that is really exciting.’

Kane adds that, ‘The commercial activity being undertaken by our orchestras (thinkHarry Potter in Concert,Star Wars and pop-culture oriented experiences) is helping us to attract broader audiences, but this isn’t necessarily seeing them transition over to our core product, being the presentation of symphonic repertoire in streams such as our Master Series.’

Kane performed some analysis on another ASO youth initiative, ReMastered, ‘It revealed that of the patrons that had begun their engagement with the ASO throughReMastered,30% have gone on to engage with other concert product (the majority of these being our core orchestral concerts) and in a majority of cases also return visits toReMastered.

‘For our first ReMastered event of 2019, I was struck that 52% of ticket buyers had attendedReMastered in the past, and a further 32% of ticket buyers had previously attended an ASO activity, but this was their first time purchasingReMastered. I think this speaks to an experience they may be looking for to supplement their enjoyment of the art form or meet other like-minded people. I definitely see the “importance of the experience” trend on the rise and think this will play a very pivotal factor for orchestras in attracting future audiences.’

‘The underpinning of all of this is going to be an ability to create and engage a community, and to reframe the orchestra as a welcoming space. The Advocacy program grew out of a belief that meaningful interaction with this 18­–30-year-old demographic would help to slowly shift attitudes around who it is that enjoys and attends orchestral music and would also demonstrate that there is an emerging generation that cares about our orchestras. This is a really powerful thing.’

The program has influenced the career paths of some Advocates. One of the members from the first year of the program, Yundi Yuan, is working at the ASO in the role of Artist Liaison. Another member discovered their love of the fundraising and philanthropy side of the business and has gone on to become the Development Executive with the State Opera of South Australia.

‘Most of the past members continue to be very engaged with our concert activity and a number of them are now subscribers. Given the broad skill set and interests of participants, we’ve also been able to engage past members in other ways (such as a DJ) for some of our other youth programs.’

Kane believes we are at a crossroads nationally and globally with the next generation of audiences.

‘There are very different competing sets of values between an older generation and a younger one. I think that the outlook for the next generation of audiences is positive, although not one that comes without work from our orchestras.

‘Culturally established beliefs of what the orchestra represents, or who it exists to serve, can be a real barrier. I firmly believe that working with our audiences, listening to them and implementing ways for greater inclusion and accessibility will help to shift where the orchestra sits on their cultural radar of a currently un-engaged population.

‘In a far more global, multicultural society it is important that we don’t ignore the changing mindset of emerging generations. Should this dictate what we do? Not entirely, but it should play an important part in helping us to remain relevant and inclusive to people from all backgrounds. The saying goes that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it, and I think this is at the core of audience development challenges for orchestras.

‘This growing community of young people that want to support the orchestra absolutely gives me hope. They are a firm reminder that we have to be prepared to listen and to speak the language of a new generation. It is imperative that we as arts organisations find the time to remain curious, to learn, to listen and to include. By doing this, we’ll stay relevant and be equipped to tackle whatever challenges come our way.’

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Audience Development, News