Art of Change: Three Lessons Emerge from the Fleisher’s Audience Building Work

Magda Martinez sat down with The Art of Change for an interview about audience building, portions of which are excerpted here.


Art of Change (AoC): What are the most important things you and your colleagues learned in your audience building work?

Magda Martinez (MM): The first thing we learned is that audience building must be related to mission: it must either (a) directly link to our mission, or (b) return you to  to your mission (if you’ve drifted,) or (c) enhance your mission. Making sure that our audience building work tied directly to our mission allowed us to allocate resources and make decisions that supported the achievement of our mission, which is to make art accessible to everyone, regardless of economic means, background, or artistic experience.

When we began our audience building journey at Fleisher, we included all 25 of our full time and part time staff leading us to the second thing we learned, which is that everyone has to feel ownership of this process.  Our entire staff - every person, from the executive leadership to  facilities staff - were involved in the audience building discussions, and so was our entire board.  Everyone had the opportunity to participate in discussions,  review the research, influence the conversation, and offer suggestions and observations.  One really important factor that emerged from these conversations was the observation of our employees that they each have an active network to tap on behalf of  Fleisher; how our employees felt about the organization, and the sense of ownership that they felt over the organization’s success, meant that each employee has the ability to bring their own networks closer to our organization - or to push their networks further away.  During this process, we all realized and affirmed that our staff are our greatest resource and that the staff needs to be genuinely engaged  just like any other audience we might identify. So we shared information freely and openly, asked for comment and input, and that process continues today. It is an exciting process that allows organizational leaders to deepen their own relationships with their staff.  Staff pride in our work is driven by information and dialogue and fosters real investment, which leads us back to achieving our mission.


Third, we learned that every encounter is a chance for engagement. When we began our audience building work and convened a series of focus groups (of people who were not participating with us,) we learned that a POSITIVE experience as a focus group participant brought them to us – and these were people we didn’t know and who had not heard of us before!

Engagement is an internal activity and an external activity. “Internal” is the staff and board engagement I referenced earlier; external engagement works in three ways:

  1. We can choose to broaden our audience by attracting more of the same audience profile (that we have now) to our work;
  2. We can choose to deepen our engagement by creating a richer relationship with the audience we already have; or
  3. We can choose to diversify our audience by attracting audiences whose profiles are different than the audience we have presently.

We learned that focusing on ONE of these – and doing it thoughtfully and well – was enough to help us meet our mission in entirely new ways. We chose to “diversify” and we found that, by diversifying our audience, we also learned more about broadening and deepening our audience relationships. The diversification of our audience happened over a period of several years; another really important lesson is that it takes Establish metrics and benchmark yourself against the anticipated outcome.

AoC: What advice do you have for organizations with small budgets who may not think they can tackle audience building the way that you did at Fleisher?

MM: Maintain your focus on mission. Deeply engage with your own employees and board. Be sure that everyone has common definitions for the work you doing. For example: does everyone understand your mission? Does everyone have the same definition of community engagement? That is the first step – gain common definition. We defined community engagement with our staff and board over a series of small meetings and email interaction over a two-week period, and it made a big difference in how quickly we were able to move forward with our audience building work.


If you haven’t already, start asking the people that you already have - your existing audience - what they think of your organization and how you do your work: how could it be easier for them to participate with you? Ask your audience a few basic questions through a simple online survey, telephone calls, or people with clipboards at your events. Often, help is available through local colleges and universities for survey design and compilation of results.

  • Where do you live?
  • Why did you come here?
  • Will you come back? Why or why not?
  • How did you hear about us?

Begin simply and act on what you learn. At Fleisher, we learned that the vast majority of our audience did not live near our location, which surprised us. This caused us to choose to “diversify” and reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods for audience participation. Our engagement in surrounding neighborhoods has meant that we diversified our audience but our existing audience got excited about what we were doing, too.

Talk to your audience in a way that they understand – speak to THEIR motivations, not your own (whether we like this or not.) This is a critical success factor for audience building, at least in our experience at the Fleisher.

AoC: Magda, thank you for taking time from your own audience building work to share your experience with us!

For more information on the audience building work that Fleisher Art Memorial has done, click here to download the report of their process and results


Keywords: Mission, ownership, Staff, metrics, benchmark, audience motivations

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