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Event Review: Alan Brown Residency

April 30, 2014

On the evening of Monday, April 28, the Drexel Arts Administration graduate students and the Philadelphia arts and culture community were honored take part in a lecture and reception with Alan Brown, renowned arts research consultant at WolfBrown, in the URBN Center Annex.  Arts Administration Professor and Research Director Neville Vakharia and Director of the Drexel Online Arts Administration Program Dr. Jean Brody organized this event as part of the Westphal College’s Rankin Scholar-in-Residence program, which brings leading scholars, researchers, and professionals to campus.  “Alan Brown’s residency is key to providing our Arts Administration students with an experiential understanding of important trends and emerging opportunities. We were thrilled to bring him to campus to share his insights with our students and our region’s arts and cultural leaders,” said Professor Vakharia.

Increasing participation and interest in the arts is first and foremost in the minds of arts administration students and practitioners, though the field has not yet settled on a common language with which to talk about developing audiences. Brown introduced his language of “building demand”—which encompasses all activities that attract new and existing audiences to attend, participate, and engage more deeply with the arts. During his presentation, Brown shared examples of how real arts organizations are creating new methods to build demand, something he will study in a seven-year research project with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Brown emphasized that his research repeatedly emphasizes that audience demographics are a direct reflection of the type of performance or exhibit offered. As a result, he challenged the audience to think about our individual experiences and organizations; if we wish to engage new audiences, how can we rethink the way we present art?

“Innovation” was a theme in Brown’s participatory lecture. In today’s world dominated by social media and online interest groups, what can the arts borrow from their success? First, considering “taste communities” or what Brown describes as the affinity-based networks to which we belong. Can the arts market directly to or curate targeted experiences for a particular taste community? In addition, Brown introduced the online sales technique called “preference discovery,” suggesting items the buyer didn’t know they wanted or needed, as a transferrable marketing technique in the arts. How can arts administrators make an audience member, who never thought she liked Beethoven, discover a preference for the composer and buy tickets to his Fifth Symphony? While these exciting, large-scale ideas open a realm of possibility, Brown reminded the audience that engaging new audiences is a long-term, incremental process. 

Following the lecture, the crowd dispersed into a reception in the URBN Annex lobby where the conversation continued, as attendees had the opportunity to network with one another and converse with Alan Brown. Surely, this is an event that will be long remembered in the arts and culture community of Philadelphia.