The Engagement Revolution

To stay relevant to changing communities, many arts organizations have been developing engagement programs — that is, programming designed to reach more and different people and involve them more actively in how art is made and experienced. While engagement efforts are often episodic or separate from an art organization’s core programming, in late 2013 a group of 10 arts nonprofits across California set out to make engagement central to their identities as part of the New California Arts Fund. To do this, they pursued transformations in their programmatic, organizational, and business models. This evaluation documents their achievements and challenges, and provides considerations for arts organizations and funders interested in reaching ethnically diverse and/or low-income communities.

The Engagement Revolution


Recommended resources

Mar 22, 2019
By Mar Dixon
Mar 22, 2019

How to you pull people from different sectors together to build an unknown outcome in 3 days? Started with seeing tweets from France and then wanting to get involved in something I didn’t really know what it was. It is something you have to experience to appreciate. I went to MuseoMix in France 2012 and even though didn’t understand language, knew the framework was something that could really remix and shake up museums!

The key idea was allowing other sectors to have input. For our first year, it was a little complicated getting a community but I called in favors from friends and paid them with cake and smiles. I knew they would get something out of it. Up until our first day, there was confusion but with the framework that allows for growth with some guidance the community was able to achieve a level of re-thinking they did not think would be possible. Since then we have done another MuseomixUK and rebranded to Open Community Lab to branch out to health care and other sectors.

Video of Mar DIXON (Open Community Lab and MuseomixUK, UK) at the Conference Marketing de las Artes in Madrid 2016. 


Nov 08, 2018
By The Wallace Foundation
Nov 08, 2018

This case study originally released in 2011 describes how the Steppenwolf Theatre Company has addressed the vexing problem of falling ticket subscription rates by developing deeper relationships with both subscribers and non-subscribers. To that end, it launched an experiment centered on promoting a dialogue among audience members and the artists about the process of creating theater. Audience members took part in nightly post-show discussions, attended special thematic events and were offered access to a rich selection of online content—including videos, podcasts, blogs, articles and slide shows—in which the artists talked about their work from a variety of perspectives.

The result: During a two-year period, many audience members who used to attend only one performance per season bought tickets to two, three or more shows. At the same time, the relationship-deepening initiatives had the added benefit of supporting high subscriber renewal rates.

This report is part of a set of case studies and reports looking at the efforts of arts organizations that received Wallace Excellence Awards to reach new audiences and deepen relationships with current ones.


Oct 26, 2018
By The James Irvine Foundation
Oct 26, 2018

Every four years, the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Census Bureau partner to survey tens of thousands of adults across the country in an attempt to understand how people participate in the arts. This report, published in 2015, is the first in a two-part study commissioned by the Irvine Foundation to understand what California’s residents do to participate in the arts and, importantly, how that varies across the state’s diverse population. 

The report finds that attendance at arts nonprofit-sponsored events have fallen, and even more so, that a lot of arts audiences don’t reflect California’s diversity—in terms of race and ethnicity, income, or education level. At the same time, it found that while Californians are attending traditional arts events less, they are participating in arts in many other new and exciting ways. Arts participation has traditionally been understood to mean arts attendance—and this is what the survey explores—but the data shows that we can benefit from a new understanding and definition for arts participation. 

Explore key findings in this infographic.