Photo: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Moon Water, by Gert Weigelt
Cross-Ethnic Research & Marketing Initiative
The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago has achieved notable success in attracting ethnically-specific minority audiences to its performances. Data collected from audience surveys between 2000 and 2009 indicates that 33% of The Dance Center’s audience is non-Caucasian. However, the same data shows that the ethnic composition of audiences varies widely from event to event and is largely dependent on the works presented. Our data confirms the anecdotal assumption that culturally-specific performances attract larger percentages of audiences reflective of the tradition or heritage represented in the work performed. Deeper analysis of our survey data segmented by ethnicity reveals a disinclination for non-Caucasian audiences to attend performances that are not reflective of their own cultural traditions.
To understand better the obstacles and opportunities for increasing sustainable cross-ethnic participation in our programs, The Dance Center launched a multi-year
Cross-Ethnic Research & Marketing Initiative
in 2008. While attracting first-time minority audiences remains a high priority for The Dance Center, the goal of the Initiative is to stimulate repeat attendance by broadening cross-ethnic participation regardless of the cultural specificity of the work presented.
The plan calls for periods of focused research and the development of a targeted marketing plan to be implemented and evaluated over three years. During the implementation phase, The Dance Center is maintaining its long-standing commitment to presenting extended community engagement residencies and performances with world-class culturally-specific and intercultural contemporary dance companies.
As demographic shifts continue across the country, it is important to have leadership, relationships and content in performing arts organizations that both reflect and stimulate cross-cultural awareness, sensitivity, and learning. Through the Cross-Ethnic Research & Marketing Initiative, The Dance Center intends to establish a common ground around contemporary dance that will affirm and challenge ethnic identity and stimulate civic engagement in a major and diverse urban setting. An audience that is more inclined to experience non-traditional dance forms from all cultures will promote wider and more fertile dialogue about contemporary issues that are both common and unique to minority (and majority) segments.
The Dance Center is unaware of any successful models that stimulate the kind of broader cross-ethnic participation and intercultural exchange this project intends to address. With thorough documentation and dissemination of findings from The Dance Center’s research, strategies, and implementation outcomes, the proposed project has the potential to make a significant and lasting impact on the performing arts presenting field, both locally and nationally.
YEAR I (2008/2009)
In 2008, The Dance Center assembled an Intercultural Advisory Group to provide input and comment upon each step of the Initiative. The group consists of an ethnically diverse mix of Chicago and national marketing and research specialist, and dance artists and arts managers representing Chicago-based dance, theater and music groups. Slover Linett Strategies
, a Chicago-based marketing research firm, was selected to conduct a
Literature Review on Cross-Ethnic Arts Attendance
and an initial phase of qualitative research. As part of the Literature Review, Slover Linett was allowed to perform a custom analysis of datasets from the Values and Impact Study
conducted by Alan S. Brown and his firm, Wolf Brown, on behalf of 14 major university arts presenters.
Slover Linett’s initial research methodology – focus groups and phone interviews with key audiences – was designed to identify barriers, obstacles and motivations for cross-ethnic participation. Their research also examined why Caucasian audiences are more willing to “cross-over,” what their motivations are, and why the barriers and obstacles to cross-ethnic participation seem to apply less to Caucasian audiences. The research, conducted in spring 2008, is summarized in the report Qualitative Research on Ethnic and Cross-Ethnic Dance Attendance
The Dance Center, Slover Linett, and members of the Intercultural Advisory Group developed a Logic Model
for the Initiative. A logic model is a visual diagram illustrating the intended relationships between a program’s resources, activities, and outcomes.
The Logic Model served as a framework for work with Flowers Communications Group
, a Chicago-based marketing firm specializing in ethnic segments, on the development of a set targeted strategies, a marketing plan, and evaluation benchmarks intended to broaden The Dance Center's audience by increasing cross-ethnic participation.
The marketing plan was tested on two Spring 2009 presentations. Measurable increases in cross-ethnic attendance were achieved.
YEAR II (2009/10)
The Dance Center refined and continued to implement its own ethnic marketing plan during the 2009/10 season. The Dance Center also continued its work with Slover Linett Strategies on the development of improved research and evaluation methodologies in order to learn whether and in what ways our efforts are successful in achieving the desired goals.
Slover Linett helped The Dance Center modify its existing audience survey
. Carefully-crafted questions were added aimed at understanding patrons' attendance motivations, perceptions of cross-cultural exploration through dance, awareness and recall of any initiative-specific marketing messages, and initiative-intended outcomes listed in the Logic Model.
Slover Linett also recommended a more rigorous methodology for collecting survey data at designated performances. The enhanced survey
was fielded during one performance of each 2-6 performance engagement during The Dance Center's eight-event 2009/10 season. The Dance Center's existing survey was fielded at all other performances during the 2009/10 season so that attendance patterns can be consistently measured against established benchmark criteria. Interpretation and analysis of the enhanced survey data is summarized in Slover Linnett's report Onsite Patron Survey Results
Year II research also included an experience sampling study designed to provide more nuanced information than audience surveys. The study was led by Woody Carter, PhD, sociologist, lecturer at the University of Chicago's Public Policy department, and Slover Linett's senior research methodologist. For The Dance Center's January 2010 presentation of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, patrons from target ethnic communities who had attended Dance Center performances cross-ethnically were invited to participate in the study. In this three-part process, the screened and recruited African-American and Latino participants were asked to: a) complete a written journal about his/her expectations before attending the performance; b) attend the performance; and c) be interviewed within two weeks of having attended that performance to gauge post-performance response and reactions. Findings and recommendations are summarized in Dr. Carter's report, Experience Sampling Results
YEAR III (2010/11)
Incorporating learning from two years of focused research, the cross-ethnic marketing plan and messaging strategy was again refined and applied during the 2010/11 season. The Dance Center also continued to deploy its audience surveys to measure the plan's efficacy and to provide a feedback loop for continued success.
Cumulative data for the two and one half year period (Spring 2009 through 2010/11) during which the marketing plan was tested and implemented follows:
- At non-culturally specific performances combined African American, Latino, Asian American, and Other attendance increased by 8%.
- At African or African American performances combined Latino, Asian American, and Other attendance increased by 3%.
Leadership funding for The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago’s
Cross-Ethnic Research & Marketing Initiative has been provided by
The Chicago Community Trust, The Joyce Foundation, The Elizabeth Morse
Charitable Trust, Columbia College Chicago’s School of Fine and
Performing Arts, and Columbia College Chicago’s Office of Marketing and