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Staging Change
Case Studies from EmcArts


Metcalf’s new multi-year strategic funding program in the Performing Arts, Staging Change, is being delivered with EmcArts, a non-profit cultural consultancy based in New York. Founded 20 years ago, EmcArts has worked with over 300 cultural institutions across North America to identify innovative strategies to engage audiences, generate revenue, and create public value by utilizing a process known as adaptive change. Performing arts companies from cities as diverse as Denver, St. Albert, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and New York have embraced adaptive change as a way of confronting and solving complex challenges. Working with EmcArts, the five arts organizations profiled here have questioned existing assumptions, undertaken a series of experiments, and used rapid prototyping before scaling up in order to successfully identify a new path forward.

These case studies are shared to assist Toronto’s performing arts organizations with assessing the potential that Staging Change can offer their company. The deadline to apply is June 11.


Denver Center Theatre Company, Colorado

The Denver Center Theatre Company is the largest professional company in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region, producing plays on three stages and holding a new play festival. In 2010, it was forced to shave $1.3 million from its budget and address the underutilization of one of its smaller theatres known as The Jones. Working with EmcArts, the organization reconceptualized the space as a multimedia laboratory, designed to expand the Theatre’s audience base, engage patrons in novel ways, and diversify programming. Using adaptive change, the company experimented with several prototype productions to quickly determine what would thrive and survive, and what the company had the capacity to take on before committing to a new course of action. Assumptions about audience were also upended. The results of this process have been so successful that the Board raised an extra $100,000 to support the first season of the rebranded and renamed Off Center @ The Jones and the company is applying the techniques it learnt to its other stages.

The full case study can be found at the EmcArts ArtsForward site.

Members of the Denver Center Theatre Company explain how the adaptive change process led them through various protoypes and changed the company.

Northern Alberta International Children's Festival,
St. Albert

In 2014, the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival’s funding dropped and attendance stagnated. Working with EmcArts and New Pathways for the Arts Edmonton, in three short years, NAICF closed out their most successful festival to-date. Attendance was up 10% and community engagement was unparalleled. What happened? The NAICF precipitated external shifts towards community participation with internal, organizational transformation. They recognized that the Festival’s ‘shadow system of organization’ – the behind the scenes hallway conversations, grapevine, rumor mill, and informal procedures for getting things done – is where much of the creativity resides.

The full case study can be found at the EmcArts ArtsForward site.

The Music Center, Los Angeles

L.A.’s Music Center built its 50-year history on excellence but wanted to become an anchor of the community, not just a theatre on the hill. Changing the way it thought about programming, the Center switched its focus to the participation potential of any given program. Community programs flourished and expanded into a nearby 12-acre city park. The takeaway? It wasn’t about having huge resources. Experimenting and being in a constant stage of persuasion works.

The full case study can be found at the EmcArts ArtsForward site.

Adaptive change led the Music Centre to become one of L.A.'s most popular community centres and public spaces.

Cleveland Public Theatre / Teatro Publico de Cleveland, Ohio

In 2013, the Cleveland Public Theatre envisioned bringing Latino stories to the stage and started working with EmcArts, using the adaptive change process. The theatre began with one production, which sold out, bringing a new audience into the theatre – 70% of people attending had never been inside the space before. Three years later, Teatro Publico de Cleveland has become an integral part of the Cleveland Public Theatre, connecting it to the Latino community, locally and beyond.

The full case study can be found at the EmcArts ArtsForward site.

Adaptive change led the Cleveland Public Theatre to create Teatro Publico de Cleveland, bringing stories from the Latino community onto its stages.

The Wooster Group, New York City

In 2010, for the first time in almost a decade, the internationally acclaimed and constantly touring The Wooster Group faced declining audiences in their home town, New York City.  The company realized that to reach its youthful, core audience it had to move online. But how? Working with EmcArts and using adaptive change, The Group decided to reinterpret and expand an existing blog. Formerly, it had been described as an “afterthought.” Reimagined, it became a creative driver. The videos started to create buzz. They allowed the home audience to maintain contact with the company when it toured. Website traffic increased by 77 percent. The company spent thirty percent less on marketing yet ticket sales rose. Ultimately, the videos were so successful that the role of cinematographer was incorporated into the core company and time has been carved out of the daily rehearsal schedule for creation of the blog, in which all members of the company participate.

The full case study can be found at the EmcArts ArtsForward site.

Adaptive change not only helped The Wooster Group find a way of boosting ticket sales and strengthening ties with their audience, it transformed the company's own creative process.
Part of the video blog series. From the archives. Spalding Gray's Point Judith. With Ron Vawter, Spalding Gray, Willem Dafoe & Matthew Hansell.
The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation
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