Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra: Taking note of the audience experience

In September 2017, Creating Connection offered some day-long workshops to arts and culture leaders in Michigan. We’re pleased to share this interview with Suzanne Weeldreyer, Vice President of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, about the impact of that conversation on the orchestra’s messaging and programming.

What changed at your organization after hearing about Creating Connection? 

Our staff came back [from the workshop] excited, wanting to do everything. We started thinking about our visuals. Our materials have traditionally featured an image of the guest artist – after hearing about Creating Connection, we decided to flip that for the new season. So our season brochure, advertising, billboard, and fundraising appeals have all been changed to reflect our audience members.

You could say that we really took Creating Connection to heart. Even though we are a traditional arts organization, we have so much more to tell.

What the Creating Connection research has found about people valuing connection, authentic opportunities to engage, and the importance of showing the whole audience experience is very true. People need to see themselves in your materials in order to feel welcome.

kso billboard.PNG

What was the impact of these changes?

We get some really good feedback when we changed our marketing. People have come up to us--including a family whose photograph was featured in our season brochure--to say how much it meant to them.

It’s all reinforced that people want to see themselves reflected and when they do, they feel so much more a part of our family. They feel comfortable and accepted. A lot of people who came for the first time are coming back; we can tell that our efforts are making a difference.

What impact did the research insights have on your programming?

We have shared the [Creating Connection] learnings broadly across our staff, including with our President and CEO, who was quite supportive of the concepts.

As we try new events and programs, we continue to find that younger audiences want more interactive and social experiences. They want to come and understand what they are hearing and seeing. They want to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. Many also want to get to know the musicians or just have a glass of wine together. So we have started offering a wine tasting experience that connects the wine with the music.

We are also experimenting with taking the music to where people already are such as a brewery so that people enjoy music where they already feel comfortable.

We have also tried to increase involvement with our family series. We’ve offered “Meet the Maestro” and Instrument Petting Zoo events, which give people an opportunity to bring families and kids and offer more opportunities for them to connect with one another.

kso donate 2.PNG