Dad’s Garage Addresses a Primary Barrier to Attendance: Not Having Someone to Attend With!

By Lara Smith, Managing Director, Dad’s Garage

Our “Social Spaces” project addressed one of the primary reasons people don’t attend arts and cultural events: They don’t have someone to go with! We want our theatre to serve as a community gathering space, and we currently host birthday parties, game nights, volunteer appreciation events, fundraisers for other organizations, neighborhood meetings, and many other events. “Social Spaces” took this one step further and identified groups we could engage with our unique brand of arts programming, with fun events before and after our shows.

In the 2015 National Endowment for the Arts report, When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendancethe report states: “Twenty-two percent of those [individuals] who wanted to attend but chose not to said a barrier was not having someone to go with.” The same report also states: “Top reasons Americans attend the arts (performances and exhibits) include socializing with friends or family members (73%)…” Our “Social Spaces” project addressed both of these points by providing a fun environment to socialize with friends and also created an atmosphere where individuals can meet new people and not feel self-conscious about attending one of our shows alone.

The main measurable benefit to Dad’s Garage was bringing in new patrons, who would hopefully become repeat-buyers, resulting immediately in increased revenue from ticket and bar sales. Introducing new audiences to Dad’s will also potentially result in increased donations, sales of public improv classes and corporate workshops. We believe that arts organizations can build new audiences if we’re able to make attending an event more of a social experience and a place where individuals can make meaningful personal connections. We hope our findings will inspire other members of the Audience Building Roundtable and arts organizations nationwide to try similar projects.

Here are some highlights of what we did with our grant funding from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation:

  • Inviting local sports intramural teams for fun and free night out with their players: We partnered with the Atlanta Sport and Social Club to bring in three different teams on three different nights. Not only was this a fun event for their players, but we also got to give them shoutouts from the stage. By bringing in ASSC, we were able to show other audiences members (who may be interested, but not know about local sports intramurals) about these great sports groups in town.

  • Thanking local police and fire departments for their work in our neighborhood. During an Old Fourth Ward safety meeting, we asked local businesses to write out thank you notes for the police and firemen who keep our community safe. We then hand delivered these notes to the Police and Fire Departments, along with coupon codes to come see a free show.

  • Donating a lot of stuff to those in need in our nearby community. We realized that building a community through this program meant more than bringing people in to see a show. Building a community also means helping those around us who need it most. During Christmas, we adopted a family in need, and we gathered a bunch of wonderful new items to make sure the family had a lovely Christmas. We partnered with Hope Hill Elementary to provide them with equipment they needed for their arts and theatre program.

Important things we learned:

  •  Simply sending out invites is not enough to get people interested in an event. To get a group to come to an event, you have to find the right “influencer” in the group. Sometimes that’s the team captain. Other times, there is someone who is excited to partner with us to make an event. Whatever the case, it’s vital to identify the right person to collaborate with who can lead others.

  •  Giveaways and events need to be tailored to the group you are engaging. A generic sticker or T-shirt isn’t exciting enough, and can come across as “out of touch” with the group you are targeting. We had custom hats produced for our sports night, which people loved to collect. Furthermore, we decorated our lobby with the team colors. These sorts of small touches paid off because our guests could tell we really cared about them.

  •  Help lift others up. Much of our goals were centered on getting new audiences in our door, which was very important for growing our business. But what was the most impactful part of our work was when we helped lift up other people and organizations. When our Dad’s Garage family came together for our community, we were able to build goodwill and a sense of purpose for our theatre.

The Really Important Things We Learned About Collecting Emails

  • Midway through this project, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) went into effect in Europe. Although we aren't communicating with Europeans with this project, GDPR made every company (including ours) take email privacy very, very seriously. This, along with service changes to our ticket sales system, threw a wrench into the gears of our email collection and tracking efforts for this project. 

  • If you use an email service like MailChimp, which we highly recommend, you need “Express Permission” to sign up someone for your newsletter. This can be obtained by them opting in during a transaction (which happens via our ticketing system), or they can manually sign themselves up for your newsletter. If someone signs up on a paper form, EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THEIR FULL CONTACT INFO, that is not permission to join your mailing list. Instead, you can send them an email with a link to your newsletter sign up form, and then they can complete the registration. You can read a great article about opt-in for offline subscribers here. 

  • Our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program, Patron Manager, recently dropped their data search service that would allow us to batch search names/emails to determine who is a repeat buyer. This is a very useful tool that companies pay lots of money for... and we could now pay $6000 a year for it, or do searches by hand. Currently, we are doing it by hand. 

  • Search by name first, and then by email. If someone signs up to your paper form at your event, it's tempting to use their email address for data tracking. But not so fast! What if they bought tickets under a different email? We know patrons use different emails (work, personal, spam) for different purposes, so if the email you have on paper doesn't match the email in the CRM... your data will be incomplete. Searching by name, and then confirming through email can solve this issue. 

Social Spaces by the Numbers: Our Results!

Total Number of Folks Reached: 1,592

Total Number of Emails Collected at Special Events: 173

Total Events: 12

Name of Events:

  • Wicket: Special Edition—Costume contest and local storm trooper cosplayers (people who like to dress up like Star Wars characters) came to enjoy our show.

  • Old Fourth Ward Safety Meeting + PD and FD—Businesses filled out thank you notes to our O4W Police and Fire departments. Staff then hand delivered them, along with a coupon code for tickets, to the stations in O4W

  • PEDS Atlanta—They wanted to partner with us as part of their WALKtober events month. We met up at 280 Elizabeth Street (our old home) and walked to the new space, while I informed everyone about Dad's Garage history and our move. 

  • Families First Adopt a Family—Our family was a single Mother, unable to work, with 5 Children. Our performers, staff, designers, and audience members all participated in a drive to make sure our adopted family had a great Christmas.

  • DG Giving Series (3 Events)—Hope Hill Book Drive and partnership Fulton County Library, Clothing Swap (and then donation), and Hope Hill Arts Drive. This was primarily geared towards an at-need elementary school in our area. We wanted to show our community's commitment to our local public schools.

  • TheatreSports + Atlanta Sport and Social Club—3 events were we brought in local sports teams for a night out at Dad’s.

  • Ben Franklin Trivia—We did a trivia night about America’s favorite founding father, in conjunction with our show “Benjamin Franklin: American Gigolo.”

  • Black Nerd: Lobby Con—Similar to DragonCon, we invited some of the city’s top nerds and artists of color to a mini Sci-Fi convention to discuss the importance of diversity in nerd culture.

Name of Organizations:

  • PEDS Atlanta

  • Families First

  • Hope Hill Elementary

  • ATL Police Dept Zone 6

  • ATL Fire Station 4

  • ATL Fire Station 10

  • Atlanta Sport and Social Club


Ultimately, this was a project about building goodwill amongst new theatre patrons, and our events definitely did that. The feedback we got from organizations and individuals we partnered with was overwhelmingly positive. This is the first step to creating repeat ticket buyers, and we definitely increased our fan base through this project. Did we solve the problem of enticing people to come to arts events by giving them a social group to attend with? Yes and no. YES: We brought in community groups that otherwise might never have come to Dad's Garage. NO: The groups we brought in were from already existing social circles, so this project did not create new social groups from scratch.

Moving forward, the challenge will be to bring in people who aren't part of an existing social group by giving them new folks to enjoy a night out with. We do build communities of new friends through our improv classes, where individuals can meet new people to socialize with. But how do we engage others who simply want cool people to go to the theatre with, and aren't part of social groups like sports clubs or improv classes? This sort of from-scratch community building is something that all arts organizations should think about as we use our services to make for more vibrant cities!

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