Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How We Doubled Attendance in a Year: One More Post about How Events Changed Our Attendance

I promise--after this post, I'll stop writing about this. But we've just compiled all our attendance data for the past year at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (our fiscal year ends on June 30), and several people have written to me asking for the numbers behind our turnaround. I'm in no way suggesting this is the best or only way to get more people involved in an institution--it's just the way that we did it.

Here is the growth in our attendance, busiest day, and membership from last year to this year. These rose by 115%, 240%, and 30% respectively. The busiest day in both 2011 and 2012 is our longtime community program, Free First Friday.

Now, here's our attendance breakdown for the year that just ended. Of the 37,361 visitors who attended, 63% came for a community program/event.

And finally, and perhaps most interestingly, here's a comparison of Jan-June 2011 vs Jan-June 2012. I'd like to show you the data for the full fiscal year, but we only have this daily data beginning in the winter of 2011. You can see here that 86% of our growth in attendance from 2011 to 2012 is due to community programs.

All of this growth happened with a reduced budget and staff. It happened because we:
  • partnered with local artists and community organizations whose passion and generosity made it possible for us to create incredible events. Over 800 people volunteered their talents to support our programs, with the majority collaborating on our monthly themed 3rd Friday events. These include community arts groups, social service agencies, environmental groups, social clubs, and many inspiring individuals whom we can't thank enough. These collaborators brought their own audiences along with their abilities, which introduced a lot of new people to the museum.
  • actively sought out community needs to respond to. We tried with every event to meet a clearly-expressed demand or interest in the community. People wanted a fire festival, so we did a fire festival. People love crafting, so we created Radical Craft Night. Sometimes the interests were overt, and sometimes they were something we sensed in the wind. But we tried never to create an event without partners or audiences who were invested in what we were making.
  • focused on specific audiences and consistent time slots. We created programming specifically targeted to families with young kids and adults looking for casual, intriguing, affordable cultural experiences on Friday nights and Saturdays. Now Friday nights at the museum have become something people can count on, and they keep growing.
  • were shamelessly resourceful. Our program budgets are typically under $100. A big festival with 50 collaborators and 1,000 visitors might rate a $250 budget. We get materials donated from our members, we put up our own flyers around town, and we have a great working relationship with the city dump. Now that we're in a better financial position, we do plan to increase budgets a bit, but we want to spend any additional money supporting our artist collaborators, not on extra materials.

In the coming year, we plan to keep this up, and to:
  • diversify our programming by offering more intimate events alongside the big festivals. We have increased to being open late every Friday, but we will continue to only have big events (500+ visitors) on the 1st and 3rd Fridays. The other Fridays will be for more singular workshops, talks, and performances. The same is true for Saturdays, where we will continue to have a monthly formal family art workshop but add in drop-in programming on the other weekends.
  • find ways to financially support our program collaborators. We realize that asking people to volunteer their talents is not always respectful of their time or skills. At the same time, our programs' success is based on the cross-pollination of professional and amateur collaborators, all of whom bring different needs and expectations to the table. We're working on providing paying opportunities for collaborators that are equitable and flexible enough to accomodate the diversity of our partnerships.
  • design new programs with a focus on history. Many of our events in the past year have fallen more heavily on the art side of the ledger, and as a museum of art AND history, we want to make sure we're reflecting the breadth of Santa Cruz culture. We've been toying with a participatory future-casting program and or a storytelling series to start moving in this direction.
  • develop a system for tracking and rewarding repeat participation. Right now, all we do is count people. We know anecdotally that people tend to attend two events and then become a member on their third visit, but we don't REALLY know what's inducing people to come, come back, join, and renew. We're looking for low-cost ways to do this given our small size and community-driven character. More on that soon.
I hope this data is useful to you. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have.
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