Cultivating the next generation of arts supporters is a difficult job when competition for young peoples’ time and attention comes from school, part-time jobs, sports, friends — and in South Florida, abundant sunshine and beaches. Which is why the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs started Culture Shock Miami, a 10-year-old program dedicated to offering county residents under age 22 affordable access to some of the best that the South Florida cultural community has to offer.
“Arts organizations have been feeling the ill effects of aging audiences for some time,” says Gerry Landreth, projects administrator at the Department of Cultural Affairs. “With shrinking budgets, their primary focus has become maintaining an audience as opposed to cultivating new ones. Culture Shock Miami helps reach a younger market in ways that a typical organization cannot.”
Launched in fall 2004 with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Culture Shock was modeled after the New York-based High Five program, which offered $5 performance tickets to youth.
With $5 tickets for live performances and two-for-$5 for museums, Culture Shock has eliminated price as a barrier to cultural participation. In the process, it is working to develop in young audiences a passion for the arts, as well an audience who will become repeat ticket buyers.
“One of our primary goals is to reach students during the ages when they are starting to make their own entertainment choices,” Landreth says.
In addition to their comprehensive youth-friendly website and social media presence, another way they have reached the youth market is with the establishment of a Student Advisory Council. Interested students can apply for the council, which consists of five to 10 high school and college students. These students work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to promote the program and tailor the messages to better reach their peers.
Thanks to the advisory council’s feedback, Culture Shock has added two new video features to its website and social media pages: The You Review and The Inside Story.
“With The You Review students are interviewed at an event to get their feedback and reactions to the show,” Landreth says. “The Inside Story is a behind-the-scenes look at an organization, such as Florida Grand Opera, where students get to learn more about what it takes to put on an opera; or a venue, such as Vizcaya, where students can take a virtual tour of the ground with one of the docents.”
These videos have also proven to be a valuable marketing tool for featured arts organizations, many of which post them on their own websites.
Since its inception, more than 50,000 tickets have been purchased through Culture Shock Miami, allowing young people to attend arts programs at such leading South Florida cultural institutions as GableStage, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Bass Museum of Art on Miami Beach. Arts institutions donate the tickets to Culture Shock, which in turn sells them to students. Income from sales is funneled back into the marketing of Culture Shock programs.
In recent years, that programming has expanded beyond discount tickets to a program that presents its own performances, focused on increasing youth involvement in arts and culture. During the 2013-14 performance season, for instance, Culture Shock partnered with Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Cultural Passport Program to offer a free performance by acclaimed Philadelphia-based hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris, and dance workshops with his team for high school students at the Joseph Caleb Auditorium in Liberty City.
They followed that up with three additional presentations: Street Beat The Show; Spirit of Uganda; and Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, with Rhythmic Circus, at locations across Miami-Dade County. In addition to traditional evening performances that were open to the general public, Culture Shock was able to offer field-trip performances, as well as master classes with the musicians and dancers — all free to youth attendees.
Culture Shock Miami kicks off its 10th season on Oct. 1 with the live-action graphic novel Intergalactic Nemesis, at South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center. It will offer free field-trip performances, workshops and master classes as well as regular evening performances for the general public — and of course their signature $5 tickets.