I just spent $90 on a subscription to IndyHub's Passport to the Arts. I have to confess that my palms get a little sweaty whenever I drop that much cash in one place. I may fit the program's requisite "young professional," but that doesn't always mean oodles of disposable income. But I've got no regrets. I have it on good authority that it's worth every penny. Besides, I'm writing for an arts magazine. I need to establish my arts patron street cred.
For the uninitiated, IndyHub is a local non-profit that works to connect 20- and 30-somethings to Indianapolis and to one another. They're known for hosting monthly happy hours, professional development seminars, topical presentations, and Get IndyVolved, an annual non-profit fair. And then there's Passport to the Arts, an innovative program designed to inspire an appreciation of the performing arts in IndyHub's target demographic.
You may have noticed that not many of your peers spend their weekends at the symphony, the opera, or the theatre. Passport to the Arts is here to change that--or at least sow the seeds of change. In 2006, the Arts Council of Indianapolis teamed up with Next Generation Consulting to figure out what makes young audiences tick, pinpointing how we hear about arts events and why we attend them--and why we don't. The results of that study prompted IndyHub to take action. Focused on engaging next-generation patrons, they designed Passport to the Arts around the wants and needs of young professionals. Karissa Hulse, IndyHub's director of marketing and programming, explains that the goal is "to build new audiences, long-term audiences," which is no small task.
"I think a big challenge that professional arts organizations have and have had for years," she says, "is figuring out how to recruit new patrons without leaving their existing patrons behind."
So what is it exactly? You get up the nerve to spend $90 and then what? Allow me to explain. Passport subscribers receive tickets to five shows at five fantastic venues: the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Dance Kaleidoscope, the Indianapolis Opera, and the Phoenix Theatre. Five shows for $90. Do the math: that's a sweet deal.
But it's more than just a discounted ticket for the financially challenged among us. Subscribers are also invited to an exclusive behind-the-scenes reception before or after the show. Ivy Tech's culinary and hospitality administration students plan the menu, prepare the food, and stage the event, while Sun King Brewery, New Day Meadery, and Monarch Beverage Co. lend their considerable talents in the way of libation. But the highlight--the part that really makes the passport the passport--is that IndyHub brings in the artists, directors, and casts to discuss the process of creating the show and their experiences as professional artists, giving subscribers the inside scoop. IndyHub hopes that by learning more about an art form and meeting the artists, subscribers will feel a personal connection to the organization and a deeper appreciation for the performance.
"We find some element of that organization or that performance in particular that we can create an educational experience around," Hulse explains. "We want to make it a little more real for people and try to break down barriers for those who might find a particular art form intimidating."
Whatever they're doing, they're doing it right. Adrienne Luegers, a past subscriber, always enjoys the atmosphere and the energy of the evening. "It's very inviting and very welcoming," she says, "and you don't feel like you have to be an expert." Another subscriber, Patrick Herrel, agrees, noting that the fact that most subscribers are new to the arts scene makes it a "safe space" to be exposed to new things. He recalls his first passport experience:
"I've got to say that, looking back, Passport to the Arts is the only thing that really could have pushed me into the arts. The first performance was at the Phoenix Theatre, and I'd never heard of it before. I moved here from Chicago, and I came in thinking it would be kind of a fun, local performance--and with local, I think probably came some condescending assumptions--but it was amazing. The talent just shocked me, and I've been to the Phoenix several times since and have continued to seek out other arts opportunities. It really turned me on to the arts in Indianapolis in a way that I don't think anything else would have. It was social, it was approachable, it was affordable; I just loved it."
Leugers adds, "Not only do you get to see five great shows in great venues with great seats, they really treat you well. It's like a VIP deal, with an awesome presentation and hors d'oeuvres. For the value, it's incredible. I just don't think they could do it much better."
She's right: it really does seem like IndyHub has thought of everything. All reservations are made through them, and they communicate with the box office for you. And if you have a conflict with one of the scheduled performances, no problem. Just let IndyHub know, and you'll get a ticket to an alternate performance at that venue. You'll miss out on the behind-the-scenes experience, but you'll never have to forfeit your ticket. Plus, IndyHub has a lot of experience catering to the 20- and 30-something crowd. They know what we like and carefully work with each arts organization to select the performance that best showcases that organization to this specific audience, which might mean a show with a contemporary edge or performers that fall squarely in our demographic--or both. Oh, and bonus subscriber perk: throughout the season, you'll receive additional one-off opportunities to purchase discounted tickets to other arts venues around town, for example, a ticket to an IndyFringe show or a concert at The Cabaret.
Hulse knows that change won't happen overnight, but that's okay. Passport to the Arts is about looking ahead. She believes in the program, and she believes in the power of the arts to captivate and enthrall a whole new generation. As a subscriber, the only thing you have to do is give it a shot. "Yes, it's a different experience," she acknowledges, "and it may not be for everybody, but here's your opportunity to go check it out. Maybe you'll realize that you love dance or the symphony and you're going to be more likely to buy a single ticket next year, and maybe in 5 to 10 years when all of us are more established in our careers, more established in our personal lives, more financially stable, we might be open to the idea of becoming a regular patron or a season subscriber." It's one heck of a plan. You can count me in.
If you decide to subscribe to Passport to the Arts--and I really hope you do--make sure to look for me in October for the first performance at the Indianapolis Opera. I'll be the one wearing the evening gown and opera glasses. How's that for street cred?