Bridging the gap: Enjoy the Arts streamlines path to arts patronage

There’s a donut hole in Cincinnati arts patronage. Residents often visit the museums and theaters when their parents bring them as children, but their next symphony ticket purchase may happen decades later when they bring their own children. 

Since its inception, Enjoy the Arts has been promoting the arts among a young and often restless audience. It offers low-cost, low-commitment coupon book-style incentives to appeal to the 18-35-year-old demographic. Its website re-launch this week features an energetic new image that combines the nonprofit’s roots with attitude.  

Irma Lazarus founded Enjoy the Arts in 1981 to make local arts programs more accessible to the under-35 crowd. The original model was an actual coupon book that cost $50 and granted the holder VIP access and two free tickets to every participating arts event in the city. Members also received exclusive invites to parties and happy hours, as well as year-long ticket price reduction—roughly a $1,000 value in all, which was made possible by funding from the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation.

“But Irma’s mission was not simply to create a coupon book,” says Jennifer Foster, 24, Enjoy the Arts' manager. Rather, it was to develop a sustainable organization that would become a driving force of creativity in Cincinnati, promoting sociability, pride and a sense of ownership—a creative and flexible way to give young people a cultural incentive to remain in the area.

“I’ve always had a travel bug, but the more I connect here, the more I feel it’s a great place to stay,” Foster says. One of Enjoy the Arts’ underpinning goals is to show younger Cincinnatians that they don’t need to move to the coast to find great arts and culture.  

Tour guides and brochures describe Cincinnati as the “Arts Mecca of the Midwest,” but to young residents, arts programs can seem largely invisible. Until recent years, many arts programs tended to concentrate their promotions on older age groups, and they have to remain responsive to that audience because they continue to support their operations. 

An unintended by-product is that the majority of arts programs and venues aren’t extraordinarily “plugged-in” to technology, Foster says.  

Enjoy the Arts, though, didn’t have much room to talk. The organization operated mostly on paper with only a small web presence. That limitation put it out of view for many contemporary youth, students and young professionals who were unaware that a small amount of digging could unearth hit Broadway shows, a wide range of local theater, a world-class symphony, opera and ballet as well as a wealth of museums right here in the Queen City. 

In short, they were missing the very world that Lazarus wanted to unveil to young Cincinnatians.  

“Irma was a glamorous, extravagant woman,” Foster says. The philanthropist had an arts-centric talk show called “Conversations with Irma,” and she was known for late nights dancing at Japps and consorting with famed dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, among other arts celebrities. Andy Worhol even once sent her a bouquet of silver balloons for her birthday.  

“Our mission is to honor those roots, to unveil Cincinnati as an arts destination with a fun, social, young and genuine twist,” Foster says.

The new “twist” centers on the re-launch of Enjoy the Arts’ website. Foster understands that young audiences want access to information on their smartphones, and to be able to “check in” at events with different social media apps and Facebook. 

Enjoy the Arts partnered with Gaslight web developers and local branding agency We Have Become Vikings to transform their simple website into a comprehensive web portal, with a new face that is designed to lower intimidation barriers.

“We took some older themes that were true to the arts and reinvented them in a fun, contemporary way,” says Jason Snell, 36, chief creative at We Have Become Vikings.  

For example, the current brand mascot is William Shakespeare with his face painted à la Kiss. Other design elements blend influences from rock ‘n roll, graffiti and the traditional arts. Also ubiquitous throughout the site is a crown.

“We wanted to incorporate history with a look toward the future, while keeping it simple and paying homage to Cincinnati,” Snell says.

The new site offers an expansive event search feature, which allows users to filter events by categories like theater, visual arts, party and music, or with a calendar that shows every event occurring on a specific date.  

“They’re really good about gathering up every little thing that happens in Cincinnati—stuff I would never know was out there,” says Ross McAllister, 26, one of the beta users for the new site.  

McAllister used the new listings to find and attend a Christmas-themed party before a showing of the Nutcracker, and more recently, an event hosted at Taste of Belgium Bistro called “It’s Raining Beer.” At that event, an Enjoy the Arts membership earned each guest a free beer at the Over-the-Rhine bistro before the whole group walked to the Know Theatre for a show of “When the Rain Stops Falling.”

“It’s great that I can count on that kind of information always being there,” McAllister says.

While the free tickets and discount offerings haven’t changed, the logistics have been streamlined to accommodate tech-savvy users. Now members can claim their tickets online with a few simple clicks. These electronic tickets are then sent to the user’s smartphone, which, when paired with the membership card, is all that needs to be presented for admission. This eliminates the risk of misplacing or forgetting tickets.  

“Everything used to be paper, but that’s not how our audience operates anymore,” Foster says.  

The ETA primary account holder must be under 35, but their guest can be of any age. The goal is to make the portal a complete resource for everything going on in Cincinnati, so that young people can use their membership to organize dates, parties with friends or even an elegant night at the symphony with their grandmother.  

“Everyone needs a point of entry,” Foster says. Whether it’s a street art exhibit or a show at Playhouse in the Park, Enjoy the Arts wants to offer avenues for any burgeoning artistic interest to grow into a general love of the arts.   

“It makes it easier to go places like the opera that always seemed intimidating, for their pricing and my not-so-expendable budget,” says Leyla Shokoohe, 25, another beta user. 

Shokoohe is a marketing assistant for the Cincinnati Ballet and has seen Enjoy the Arts vouchers trickling in. She’s excited for the revitalization of the program and how the new web portal will change young people’s interaction with the arts.  

“It’s sharp, clean and easy to navigate,” she says. “I had no idea there were things like the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra or the Contemporary Dance Theater. The site takes all the guesswork out of finding events.”

Communicating with its audience in an honest and genuine way is critical, Foster says. Enjoy the Arts achieves this through input from its funders’ advisory board as well as a panel of arts participants called the YP (Young People) Committee.  

The collaboration between age groups provides avenues for reaching new demographics with innovative couplings like “For the Love of Brunch,” where Enjoy the Arts members gathered at MOTR pub for half-price Bloody Marys before attending the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.

The idea is to create a driving force, to support creativity and unite young people rather than simply collect event data, Foster says. There’s a greater likelihood of young people attending the theater or an art gallery if the price barriers are lowered, and they can attend a party beforehand with a group of fellow art-lovers. Another added benefit—the younger art patronage begins, the better it sticks, Foster says.

“There just aren’t words for when you find that connection with the arts. We want to help more and more people find that magical moment.”

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