Our long journey of investigation into how audiences are affected by arts programs crossed another milestone recently with the release of a two-year study of audiences at choral music concerts, commissioned by Chorus America. While we’ve previously delved deeply into the impact of theatrical performances and other types of arts programs, the choral study was notable for its scale and focus. A total of 23 choruses across North America participated in the two-year study, including youth choruses, volunteer and professional choruses, and LGBTQ choruses. Over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, 14,326 audience members at 136 difference concerts completed surveys about their experience. In many cases we have samples of audiences attending the same artistic program (e.g., Carmina Burana) in different cities.
A lengthy article by Kelsey Menehan on Chorus America’s website, “Understanding Audiences: Takeaways from the Intrinsic Impact Audience Project“, summarizes the findings and how they influenced the thinking of the participating choruses. As a choral singer myself, the study carried a deep personal significance. Earlier in life, I sang many of the great choral works that were the object of audience members’ feedback.
It was a thrill to stand in front of the assembled membership of Chorus America to present these results. Different kinds of artistic programs generate remarkably different kinds of impacts, underscoring the strategic importance of program selection to mission fulfillment. Audience participation affects impact, as do audience members’ personal relationships with one or more of the performers. Strong “social bridging” and “social bonding” impacts were associated with specific kinds of programs (e.g., MLK tribute concerts), especially when the audiences for these programs were racially diverse. And both professional and non-professional choruses deliver high-impact programs.
It is gratifying to see the line of inquiry about the impact of arts experiences continue. Audience members are more than capable of reporting how they are affected by arts experiences. Unlike our colleagues in the UK, however, we do not believe that audiences should be asked to adjudicate the artistic quality of performances. More on that front soon.