What We're Learning: The Aha Moment

Recipient: Accessible Contemporary Music
Challenge: Make a multi-faceted mission clear to all constituents
Solution: Discover, through a website redesign, an underlying, clarifying structure
Results: Grew concert ticket sales by nearly 50%; successfully pitched a plan to open a new studio in a new neighborhood; rapidly assessed, then funded, an opportunity to become a national membership and communications hub for composers
Impact: A new mindset and guiding principles to evaluate opportunities and engage constituents
AWF Support Four grants totaling $34,375

The Project:

“They don’t get us” was, at times, a lament heard at Access Contemporary Music (ACM), a group that champions classical music as a living art form. ACM mission spans the creation of new works as well as fostering tomorrow’s composers and musicians. Its diverse programs reach an international circle of renowned composers, provide neighborhood-based music lessons, and draw hundreds of patrons to a robust schedule of musical performances.

Yet people were often only familiar with one of ACM’s varied offerings and did not easily grasp the breadth of ACM’s mission. The group’s executive director, Seth Boustead, was worried that would hold ACM back. With Arts Work Fund support, ACM hired a designer to make ACM’s visual identity more clear. But she too had the same question – what is ACM? “So we listed of all our activities for her,” Boustead recalled. “And while all of them matched our mission, we could see how the totality of them could be confusing to people.”

The consultant pointed out that all the activities on ACM’s list sheltered under performance, education or advocacy. This gave ACM a way to talk about what it now realized was its “three-pillared mission.” And the aha moment didn’t stop there: the three pillars are now the organizing principle behind ACM’s visual identity, marketing materials, and programs, assessment of new opportunities, and financial planning.

ACM used subsequent Arts Work Fund grants to develop the website into a strong foundation for the three pillars. It added a web platform that enhances its composer membership services, launched a web-based customer relations manager and, most recently, developed a full-scale web-based marketing strategy. ACM’s website is now a vital portal that brims with activities.

Since the redesign and the aha moment it engendered, ticket sales have gone up nearly 50 percent and 70 percent of ACM’s new students now come through the web site. And Boustead already knows what barrier ACM intends to break past next: “Currently we get 50 to 70 web-based inquiries for music lessons each month, but we only sign up a small percent of them. With our new [Arts Work Fund supported] web-based marketing strategy, people will be able to schedule a free trial lesson at one of our studios. We know that if we can get them in the door, we can keep them.”

The Takeaways

The results of ACM’s Arts Work Fund capacity building projects are now deeply entwined and embedded in its work. “We have a process now,” says Boustead. “If there’s an idea, we ask: what will it cost, up front and ongoing, what will it bring in revenue and how will it advance the mission.”

Boustead draws a direct line between capacity building and money for the mission: “We do a lot of things that generate earned revenue. It accounts for 75 percent of our income. Arts Work Fund grants have helped us to figure out how to better communicate our mission. And the better we market, the more revenue we have.”

The Arts Work Fund invests in the financial sustainability, management, governance and growth capacities of small arts and cultural organizations located in the Chicago metropolitan region.

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Arts Work Fund for Organizational Development
P.O. Box 577309
Chicago, IL 60657-7309
773.296.2601 PHONE
773.435.6532 FAX

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