On audiences, by Patty Jarvis

by Jini Stolk

I’ve had many responses to my recent post on strategic audience development. One of the most thoughtful and forward looking was from Patty Jarvis, a community leader with whom I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating on the Performing Arts Education Overview – the first detailed look at educational activities by performing arts organizations in the GTA – and the growing Arts Education Constellations movement.

Below, from Patty Jarvis:

‘A couple of weeks ago, upon receiving Brendan Healey’s letter to patrons, I was compelled to reply with the following comments:

“The question that your letter triggered for me was – If this dilemma of lack of audience is industry-wide, how can we work together to build a foundation of engaged and growing arts patrons?…at the core of all of our work is the desire to create and produce extraordinary artistic experiences that are accessible to all people. As you, not unlike many arts leaders, are challenged by Toronto’s stagnant audience development, I want to find a way to share and learn from each other that goes beyond the health of each organization to a rich and vibrant community where the arts is simply a part of the lives of all of us”.

‘Last week, I participated in two of the Toronto Arts Council’s public consultations. What struck me was how difficult it was for a group of artists, arts administrators, and various other stakeholders to think about the broader implications of what we could accomplish together for our city and for each person who makes Toronto their home. Art doesn’t matter in the lives of many people and our greatest challenge is still how to communicate its value in a meaningful way. I believe that that communication has to be in service of the receiver, to be offered – not to lead necessarily to individual success (though, of course, we want and must have strong arts organizations) – but to shared success. That success would be reflected in a city where the arts is present always in its many forms and is simply a part of how we live.

As the leader of an arts education organization, I experience, along with many, that the responsibility of ensuring the continued health of my company weighs heavy. The work that each company does to understand and build its own audience is important and essential. I choose to believe that it is only when we can look forward together, beyond the specific needs of a sector, or an artistic vision, or the success or challenge of a particular season/production, that we will create a foundation of arts support and participation that reaches everyone.’


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