It isn’t often that I get to talk about some of my more clandestine projects but today is a happy exception; in particular, this project covered the trio of days I was away earlier this month in New York City. And now that Opera America (OA) has announced their Building Opera Audiences Grants recipients, it is safe to mention that I had the honor of serving on the grant panel.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-067Without a doubt, this was one of the most fulfilling grant panels I’ve had the pleasure to participate; the entire process from first contact to final word was handled with the utmost attention to detail, responsiveness, and professionalism. Everyone at Opera America who worked on the project deserves industrial grade kudos as do my fellow panelists Deeksha Gaur (Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.), Lindsey Hansen (Director of Marketing, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in St. Paul, MN), Thomas Michel (Director of Development, Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, NY) and Robert Sweibel (Director of Marketing and Communications, Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, CA).

Panel discussions were concentrated affairs and although panelists never shied away from challenging any positions, the process was never hijacked by some of the less than savory motivations that can inadvertently end up driving these sorts of endeavors. As a result, I am confident that each of the deserving grant recipients emerged from a rigorous and unbiased evaluation and their projects should be worth examining in the not so distant future (I’m looking at you in particular LA Opera and Palm Beach Opera).

You can learn more about the grant program and what each recipient plans to implement with the funds in the official OA announcement below.

Now, if I could only talk about the other top secret work I managed to squeeze in while I was in NYC for the grant panel…

Opera America Awards $300,000 In Grants To Seven Opera Companies


Building Opera Audiences Grants Encourage Experimental, Innovative and Creative Audience Building Activities

New York, NY—OPERA America, the national nonprofit service organization for opera, is pleased to announce it has awarded $300,000 in grants to seven opera companies through the second year of its Building Opera Audiences grant program, generously funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. This grant program seeks to support the efforts of North American opera companies to build informed, enthusiastic audiences for opera through innovative marketing projects. Fifty-three applications totaling over $2 million in requests were submitted, demonstrating the intense level of audience development activity across North America.

The seven organizations receiving 2014 Building Opera Audiences grants are: Arizona Opera (Phoenix and Tucson, AZ), Central City Opera (Denver, CO), Cincinnati Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Opera Philadelphia and Palm Beach Opera.

“As cultural and entertainment options continue to grow, opera companies face increased competition for audiences,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “The Building Opera Audiences grant program provides funding to experiment with innovative projects that help engage new and retain current audiences, ensuring that opera and opera companies flourish in the future.”

The second cycle of Building Opera Audiences grants feature a diverse array of initiatives that seek to increase first-time attendance and improve retention rates among current audiences. The range of these projects include forging relationships with cultural communities, overcoming perceived barriers to attendance, incorporating the art form into the popular culture, methodically studying consumer engagement and employing technology to engage audiences.

Each funded project will be documented and evaluated throughout its lifespan. The results will be shared with the opera field, so other organizations can learn from and replicate projects in their communities.

Recipients of Building Opera Audiences grants were selected by a panel of industry leaders, including Deeksha Gaur (Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.), Lindsey Hansen (Director of Marketing, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in St. Paul, MN), Drew McManus (arts consultant, based in Chicago, IL), Thomas Michel (Director of Development, Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York, NY) and Robert Sweibel (Director of Marketing and Communications, Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, CA).

OPERA America’s Building Opera Audiences grant program is made possible through the generosity of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.


ARIZONA OPERA (Phoenix and Tucson, AZ)

During the 2013–14 season, with help from OPERA America’s Building Opera Audiences grant and a partnership with Univision, Arizona Opera (AZO) forged new and lasting relationships statewide with initiatives that focus on welcoming communities that are often underserved by the arts. AZO has enjoyed meaningful successes in these initiatives, including Spanish-language concert programming, targeted marketing for program initiatives, Univision spots for AZO productions and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of La bohème that Univision has submitted for EMMY consideration. In its second year, Arizona Opera seeks to cement ¡Viva la Opera! as an integral and lasting part of its yearly programming, making it a sustaining component of AZO’s company identity.


Central City Opera (CCO) will be building on its analysis of a three-year innovation project by implementing the Boomer Bus. This new program is designed to attract individuals ages 50-65 to attend live opera performances in Central City. Participants will board a bus in Denver and be treated to a live history presentation of Central City and CCO, a catered lunch in the gardens, a behind the scenes experience, a Short Works program and a full live opera performance. The entertaining bus ride returning to Denver will include an opportunity for a Q&A session with a member of CCO’s education and community engagement team. In order to track repeat attendance, participants will be offered a promotional code for discounted tickets to another 2014-2015 CCO production.


For too many people, going to the opera is perceived as time-consuming, expensive and geographically inaccessible. Cincinnati Opera will offer a direct and efficient answer to these barriers: a high-quality opera experience that is brief, affordable and goes where the audience is. The Opera Express will be a mobile opera theater housed inside a converted semi-trailer. In groups of 16 to 20, guests will enter a stylish, comfortable performance space. The door will close, the lights will dim and the opera will begin. Performances ranging from 10 to 15 minutes will feature professional singers, lighting, costumes and scenery. Launching in the spring of 2015, The Opera Express will deliver theatrical opera experiences to new audiences throughout the Cincinnati metropolitan region, and the potential for expansion is significant.


LA Opera seeks to pilot a program to more heavily insert opera into popular media culture through an entertainment-based content marketing campaign, also known as product placement. This campaign will seek to integrate positive opera related stories and references into film, television and advertisements, exposing wider audiences to the art form and breaking down commonly held stereotypes about opera. LA Opera will partner with a content marketing agency to create pitches and promote opera to industry professionals as a valuable and viable storyline option. The ultimate goal of this pilot program is to develop long term strategies that increase familiarity and enthusiasm for the art form as a whole, thereby benefitting the entire opera industry and its many companies.


Lyric Unlimited, a division of Lyric Opera of Chicago, will implement Caminos a la ópera (Pathways to Opera), designed to build and sustain Latino audiences. Having established a dynamic relationship with this large and growing demographic, Lyric will increase its involvement in Chicago’s Latino communities by offering relevant programming both in the opera house and in neighborhood venues. Caminos a la ópera will encompass collaboratively designed community engagement programs and the creation and presentation of new artistic works including a new mariachi opera, El pasado nunca se termina. These efforts will include the fostering of new and established community partnerships, involvement with local schools and increased targeted marketing efforts.


Opera Philadelphia seeks to redefine the way it relates to the public by understanding the motivation, values and consumer experience of current and potential audiences, in order to simultaneously meet new consumer needs and propel its artistic mission. Over a two-year period, the Opera will engage consultants with deep expertise in consumer insight from outside the arts and culture field to conduct a two-phased consumer segmentation research study. The research consultants will employ surveys, focus groups and experience mapping to evaluate how audiences perceive the Opera’s brand across a spectrum of entertainment options – not just within the arts sector. The project results will help to inform marketing and product strategies that address consumer motivations and create a pioneering model for audience-building in the field.

PALM BEACH OPERA (West Palm Beach, FL)

Opera @ the Waterfront App Funds provided by OPERA America’s Getty Audience Building Program will support the development of Opera @ the Waterfront App, a custom app to be implemented at Palm Beach Opera’s free, outdoor Opera @ the Waterfront (O@tW) concert on December 13, 2014. O@tW strives to broaden Palm Beach Opera’s audience through a free community concert for individuals to experience live opera with a full orchestra and chorus at the Meyer Amphitheatre in downtown West Palm Beach, FL. The innovative custom app further engages participants in the curated arts experience by providing a two-way dialogue between O@tW audience members and Palm Beach Opera staff through real-time updates, such as fun facts and aria translations, as well as the ability to survey and receive audience member feedback throughout the concert.

For more information about OPERA America and its services, visit


About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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