UMS/Ross Design Jam
SUN, OCT. 16, 2022

“…more equitable vehicles…”

The performing arts have faced economic challenges for generations. Ticket sales are rarely sufficient to cover the costs of mounting performances, and the funding environment for performing arts organizations is increasingly troubled. Trends in ticket subscriptions, which for many years provided essential stability to support staff and operations, have been spiraling downward. And Covid halted live performances across the country for an extended period of time. In many cases, the fitful return of in-person performances has not been met by a return of live audiences. Younger audiences in particular have not adopted the same kinds of purchasing behaviors (i.e. subscriptions) towards the performing arts.

Some performing arts organizations are well-positioned to weather challenges and thrive because of their innovative structures. The University Musical Society, founded 140 years ago, is organized to be nimble and resource savvy. It does not own an auditorium; it does not employ a full-time professional orchestra or performing ensemble; its employment rolls are modest. In many ways, UMS looks like a 21st-century business. 

We must also recognize the fact that many audiences are left out of the traditional performing arts traditions and experiences. Not everyone grows up attending live music, theater or dance performances whether canonical or contemporary, or attending a school with arts programs, participation in which is the top indicator of who will become an audience member of the future. Many do not have the financial resources to afford tickets, or access to live performance venues. Performance spaces are not universally accessible or perceived as welcoming to all. There are many potentially missed connections between artists and audiences.

How can we use new tools of organizing – tech innovations, organizational innovations, innovative combinations of elements – to create new vehicles for artists to reach audiences?


See Cayenne Harris’s slide presentation about UMS on the day of the design jam:

Other Resources:

“Opera Has a Problem: Fans Aren’t Subscribing.” New York Times, December 21, 2018. 

“Surprising Findings in Three New NEA Reports on the Arts.” National Opinion Research Center.

How Much Would You Pay to Hear Great Music?” New York Times, September 23, 2022. 

“Why Streaming Doesn’t Pay.” Cory Doctorow & Rebecca Giblin, ProMarket, October 3, 2022.

“Software is Eating up the Restaurant Business — And That’s just for Starters.” Jerry Davis, I by IMD, September 16, 2021. 

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