If you are going to attract new audiences to your programs, you will need to understand why they aren\’t participating already. Surveys and focus groups can help you identify the current barriers. Your job will be to find creative solutions to break down those barriers. Some may be out of your control, but others may simply require small changes to your programs, or most likely to your marketing, advertising, and public relations campaigns.

Perceptual Barriers
This category of barrier is one you can address through marketing, advertising, and public relations. You may need to try something fun, clever, and spirited to overcome some of these perceptions:

  • “Not my cup of tea”: the style or genre of art does not appeal to me.
  • “I just don\’t get it”: I can\’t understand or get the meaning or message of the work.
  • “I don\’t want to look stupid”:  I would feel uncomfortable—what if someone asked me about the work?
  • “Too blue blood for me”: I think the art and/or the organization are too elite for me.

Personal Circumstances
These may be barriers you can do very little about. They are largely out of your control, but you may be able be able to design specific events to overcome some of these barriers, like having a program after work for busy single executives.

  • “I\’m too busy”: I find it difficult to make time.
  • “I\’d rather be….”: I would rather spend my leisure time in other ways.
  • “I\’m not going by myself”: I cannot find anyone to go with me.
  • “I don\’t want to be teased”: My friends would not understand my interest in art.

Practical Barriers
Some of these barriers are beyond your control; others you may be able to address. Be strategic in how you allocate your time and energy.

  • “I don\’t have anyone to babysit”: I have childcare problems.
  • “My wheelchair doesn\’t fit your bathroom door”: Your space is not accessible (fix it!).
  • “I really don\’t know what they do”: I don\’t know you exist or I haven\’t bothered to learn about you and your programs.
  • “They\’re never open when I have time”: Your hours of operation are inconvenient.
  • “I\’m not going to that part of town”: Your location is not safe.
  • “It sounds expensive”: I think it costs too much or It really does cost too much for me.

Prior experiences
Some people have not enjoyed their prior experience with particular kinds of arts or types of arts organizations. It may be very hard to convince them to try it again.

Adapted from A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts