How Do You Build an Audience Without Actually Performing Music?

Quick: how do you build an audience for the arts in a community?

It seems like a relatively simple question, but if you ask ten people, you'll likely get many different answers. The fact is that while there are, of course, many ways to build an audience, there are actually few strategies that are guaranteed to work regardless of the medium. For example, an audience-building approach for local theater may not necessarily work for, say, jazz. Program directors need to consider things like audience demographics, geographic location, income, education levels, and other factors to create an aligned audience-building strategy.

We bring this up to contextualize the fact that Chamber Music America (CMA) is inviting applications for residency partnership grants. Now, when we first read about it, our initial reaction was that the group was offering your typical residency program, putting up musicians for a spell, throwing them a stipend, and commissioning them to create new work.

But as we further explored the details of the grant, we were pleasantly surprised to see the residency, while certainly focusing on performance and open rehearsals, is also bullish — you guessed it — on audience-building. Furthermore, this approach to audience-building is uniquely attuned to a handful of specific musical genres: classical/contemporary, jazz, and world chamber music. 

In other words, Chamber Music America has a good idea of how they can build an audience around these genres in ways that can supplement live performances — and they're looking for U.S.-based ensembles or nonprofit organizations partnering with ensembles to make it happen. Such audience-building activities include: 

  • Educational clinics
  • Interactive classroom programs
  • Lectures and demonstrations in libraries, hospitals, senior centers, social service organizations, youth clubs, local cultural centers, and public and private schools, or similar venues.

Grants of up $6,000 will fund short-term projects involving three to nine activities taking place over at least three days within a month. Meanwhile, grants of up to $12,000 will fund extended projects involving ten or more activities taking place over more than one month and up to one year.

The length of the residencies range from a minimum of three days to one year and the grants will support up to 75% of expenses directly connected to the project, with the balance coming from other sources.

Applicants must be U.S.-based ensembles or nonprofit presenters partnering with ensembles. One (somewhat big) catch: the organizing and ensemble partners must be CMA organization-level members. That said, community groups involved in the residency need not be CMA members.

For more information, check out the full RFP here.

Fun fact: another foundation who has recently doled out big bucks for audience building and performance is the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, who ironically enough, also helps to fund the CMA. Check out more of Duke's work in the field of jazz here.