The Opera is Singing Our Song

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Jewish organizations aren’t the only ones in town trying to engage newcomers. Even New York City’s prestigious opera world is realizing that it needs to attract a younger and more diverse audience in order to sustain itself in the years to come—and it’s investing in outreach to make it happen.

As reported in an article in today’s New York Times, there are quite a few parallels between their own outreach strategy and the approach JOI has been recommending to Jewish institutions. First, opera houses like the City Center, Lincoln Center and Metropolitan are offering radically discounted seats (from $10 apiece) to compete with the full marketplace of entertainment options. In addition to holding free dress rehearsals to attract new audiences, the Met is also offering the art world’s version of Public Space Judaism—taking programs out to where people are—by holding free simulcasts of the gala performance of Madame Butterfly at Times Square and Lincoln Center Plaza. These discounted shows are also being marketed where people are, in mainstream media.

And like effective outreach professionals, they know that just one contact does not engagement make, so they’re leveraging each “first contact” with a newcomer by collecting names for follow-up. Through quick yet thorough name collection and a devotion to savvy database maintenance, they can assess whether their low-cost programs are attracting their target audience. For example, by evaluating audience participants’ levels of previous performing arts engagement, the City Opera was able to note that their two Opera-for-All evening performances (replete with introductory videos before the event) attracted a 70% new audience.

The opera world is realizing that to create lifelong engagement, it needs to first invest in people. Build up a larger pool of opera-interested individuals, and eventually opera subscriptions will also rise. Likewise, affiliation rates are perilously low for many Jewish institutions, but instead of constantly pushing membership, we need to increase the general pool of Jewish households “doing Jewish.” Invest in outreach first, grow the potential audience, and gradually affiliation will also increase.

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