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Rialto Center for the Arts

Exploring our “Film” Beginnings 

By The Rialto Center for the Arts

For over a century, the Rialto has been a dynamic arts venue in the heart of Atlanta, showcasing exceptional artistic talent and advancing education initiatives in our public schools. As part of a vibrant downtown landscape, the Rialto has remained true to its mission: to inspire, educate and entertain diverse audiences by presenting innovative and exceptional arts programming and cultivating community partnerships.

But the Rialto’s original purpose was to showcase what was arguably the most influential art form of the twentieth century – film. Opened in 1916, the Rialto was part of the original theater district of Atlanta. Evolving from a 925-seat vaudeville and silent film theater to the Southeast’s largest movie house to what it is today – a performing arts center showcasing live arts programs from all disciplines and around the world. The Rialto is located on the same corner as the original building, Forsyth and Luckie Streets, and has the distinction of being one of only a few businesses in the city that has done the same type of work for 100 years in the same spot.

As a celebration of our centennial year, (the “new” Rialto opened on Christmas Day, 2016) we wanted to explore our “film” beginnings. We are now undertaking a comprehensive campaign to raise money for upgrades to our current systems to allow for digital and film projection on a giant, tension-mounted motorized screen. The goal of our audience building initiative is to attract both younger patrons and new rental business. Given the bustling film industry and all of the film shoots in downtown Atlanta, there needs to be an intown space to hold premieres. We want to be that space. We requested grant funds from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation’s Audience Building Roundtable to do two things: upgrade our existing film/media equipment and implement a new AudienceView ticketing system for tracking and follow-up of patrons.

The grant funds allowed the Rialto to upgrade our film/media capabilities through the purchase of a 27’ x 15’ Stumpfl screen with an aluminum frame and legs. A screen like this was something that we previously had to rent at a much higher price point. In addition to saving the rental fees, this upgrade enables us to set up quickly, with less labor and faster turnover between events. We debuted this screen for a very special evening – a Rialto Series show designed to attract a new, younger audience - a screening of the restored print of the 1927 German silent film Metropolis, with live, original accompaniment by Boston’s Alloy Orchestra. ArtsATL and Creative Loafing gave us much-needed preview coverage. The pre-show talk, by film scholar Dr. Allesandra Rhangos, drew more than 100 attendees. Our concessions featured popcorn and movie candy. Our ticket sales topped $6,000.

A portion of the grant funding was used to purchase the new AudienceView integrated ticketing and customer-management system, enabling us to customize payment plans, create real-time reporting and connect via e-mail marketing. We have been able to capture data and follow patrons from the beginning of transactions all the way to post-event surveys instead of relying on Survey Monkey or on paper copies in the lobby after a show. The new system allows us to capture more information, including the high percentage of new ticket buyers we attracted to the Metropolis offering (First-time buyers must create an account in the new system). The follow up comments in our audience surveys included: “Very cool – loved the event;” “More film please – tonight’s performance was amazing;” and “Awesome sound with movie.” The ticketing system indicated that we reached part of our target audience since many of our attendees were students one of the stated goals in our application for funding. We had a much larger walk-up audience than usual for our Series events and observational data confirmed that the audience demographic skewed toward attendees in their 20s and 30s.

Since we chose the Metropolis event as a test program that would use both aspects of the funding we received, we feel that we succeeded. Our takeaway is that film events, especially unusual ones that attract press attention, will drive a different audience through our doors. Later in the season, we reached out to the same audience for our show Shaolin Warriors and received an enormous response from students and younger attendees. As a result of the Metropolis project, we anticipate presenting another film festival during summer 2017 (In summer 2016, we presented the Be Downtown film festival which brought 400 new attendees into the space). We will target our new audience through special discounts, offers for behind-the-scenes tours and meet-and-greets with filmmakers and others affiliated with the screenings.

We chose to focus on film and media because of observations showing a lack of proper screening facilities intown; because we wanted to capitalize on our centennial and be the only place downtown that remains a movie venue; and because of the success of last summer’s foray into film showings. We made the decision based on research: we reviewed downtown offerings and noted what isn’t happening; we asked ourselves if there is a niche we can fill; we looked into what might interest a different audience; and we capitalized on the proximity to continuous film/television shoots.

Research certainly worked for the Rialto in this case. Utilizing a design thinking approach to our planning allowed us to work through empathy: we observed, engaged with, and listened to our new audience. We used data in the define stage of design thinking. The conclusions we drew are pushing us to another level.

The Rialto was able to leverage the funding we received to purchase new equipment; create a new type of season offering; and to use the new AudienceView[1]  system to its full advantage by tracking ticket buyers from point of purchase to post-show.

At the Rialto, we feel that the grant we received from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation launched us on a new path; the funding gave us the ability to take a risk. We believe the risk was well worth it. We are now on pace to reap the rewards of upgrading our technical capabilities coupled with enhanced data capture.

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