What Can Arts Organizations Learn from Beverly Arts Center's Outreach Model?

Chicago's Beverly Arts Center was a recent recipient of an $80,000 grant from the MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture at Prince Charitable Trusts. For those familiar with the foundation's work, especially in Chicago, this isn't major news. As we note in our Grant Finder profile on the MacArthur Foundation, the foundation funds multiple projects including digital media and learning, and juvenile justice. That being said, arts organizations usually fare disproportionately well, receiving close to $8 million a year. What's most interesting about this announcement, however, is what outreach-focused arts organizations can learn from Beverly Art Center's success.

Many urban arts organizations roll out programs that may appeal to a relatively limited audience, but there are an equal number of arts organizations attempting to attract a broader swath of the populance. (Some may call this audience "suburbia" or "middle America.") The point is that these types of organizations have outreach and programming challenges that are different than many of their urban counterparts.

For starters, the demographics are different. Urban organizations may find that their niche includes highly educated folks who can afford to live in the city. Organizations must compete against other like-minded arts projects as well as the other entertainment options that we've come to love in cities— bars, nightclubs, sprawling urban parks, etc.

The Beverly Arts Center, from our vantage point, caters to a somewhat different crowd. While the center is located in Chicago's historic Beverly/Morgan Par neighborhood, its offerings are geared toward audiences of all ages, families, and a broader range of income groups. So what makes the center's offerings so unique? And more importantly, what can other like-minded arts organizations learn in the process? Here are three seemingly intuitive, but nonetheless powerful, takeaways:

  • As far as program offerings go, quantity counts. If you're aiming to reach a lot of people, rolling out a lot of programs certainly helps. The center offers education programs, live performances, movie screenings, literary gatherings, and other events.
  • Practical and unique programs that apply to everyday life. Make the arts practical and applicable to visitors' daily lives. For example, the center offers a "Get Fixin'" workshop, whereby people learn how to fix or repurpose broken items.
  • Bring the arts to the general public. The Center's outreach department brings their on-site classes to students, churches, hospitals, senior centers, camps, and foster care centers. Furthermore, the classes are customized to the audiences' needs (not that kindergardeners wouldn't want to see "Phantom of the Opera").

Ultimately, if you believe that the arts should be as democratic and all-encompassing as possible, then it's hard to argue with this model. But model development is one thing. Creating compelling program offerings that appeal to visitors is an other thing entirely. In the case of the Beverly Arts Center, they've succeeded.