Blog #6: Season Subscriptions – How do they work and why to do they matter?

Blog #6: COVID & the Arts — Season Subscriptions: How do they work and why do they matter?  (part of a series on “The Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts”)
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Below I’ve shared a heartfelt message from Hudson Valley Shakespeare as they pivot from subscriptions to specific shows to flex passes for their summer season. Davis McCallum’s description of subscriptions as a bond is accurate – Buy now and trust our promise of delivering later. Just like a CSA, your purchase provides much-needed cash to keep the organization/business operating during lean months and to help cover the upfront expenses that occur before the product is ready – whether it’s a beautiful bunch of radishes or an opening night performance.
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In a traditional arts season (Sept-May), subscription campaigns coincide with season announcements in April. These are typically timed with the last show or concert of the current season so staff can talk about them live from the stage and in the lobby and brochures hit mailboxes (and emails hit inboxes) when audiences members are fully engaged with the company. They’ve just had a “peak experience” with your organization and are primed to buy tickets and donate dollars as sign of support for the work that you’ve done and will do.
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Companies with summer seasons don’t have that scheduling luxury but often time their campaigns with the coming of spring – hope for warmer, longer days and plenty of beautiful photos and messaging to remind you that gray of winter won’t last forever.
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In addition to supporting upfront costs for the production (costume design, scenic design, planning for direction and choreography, scenic design, music composition, technical direction on how to bring the set to reality, lighting design, etc), the influx of subscription support also provides much- needed cash for those months when there’s nothing on stage, there aren’t fundraisers, and there isn’t any single ticket revenue coming in from performance. Think about it – companies need to have enough money in their coffers to both plan for future productions/events and to pay operating costs (staff, office rent, costume and scenic storage and shop costs, insurance, accounting and legal services, utilities, websites, institutional marketing, donor development, and much, much more).
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What happens when your last show or weekend of concerts is cancelled? How does that lack of physical contact and the good feelings generated by sharing a community arts experience affect subscription sales? Add to that, the reason for cancellation – a public health crisis that is affecting every single person in your community, in your state, in your country, in the world. How do you, as a company, support your staff, the artists that you work with, the other businesses that depend on you, and your community? How much money do you need in the bank to keep the wheels in motion for an uncertain number of months? What is “reasonable” in planning for the next season? How many different scenarios do you need to go through the full planning process with? How do you maintain relationships with your audience and community and sustain the organization and what does “sustain” even mean?
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Please support our arts leaders as they grapple with untold challenges. If you can afford to, please renew your subscription, donate unused tickets to cancelled performances, and/or make a donation. While we’re stuck watching videos of live performances and taking virtual tours of art galleries and museums, take a moment to dream of when we can be working backstage and in rehearsals, performing onstage, and enjoying live arts performances and experiences again. We’ll be together again…Don’t know where…Don’t know when …But we’ll be together again.
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