Alan Brown, principal of WolfBrown, is a leading researcher and management consultant in the arts and culture sector worldwide. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences, evaluating support structures for the arts, and helping cultural institutions, foundations and agencies to see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions. His studies have introduced new vocabulary to the lexicon of cultural participation and propelled the field towards a clearer view of the rapidly changing cultural landscape.
For 2021-22, Alan’s work will follow several veins. At the forefront of his work is a continuation of the Covid-19 Audience Outlook Monitor study, initially launched in May 2020, that provides over 500 cultural organizations with essential information on audience attitudes about returning to cultural programs and facilities during and after the pandemic. The Covid study builds on Alan’s vision of low-cost, cohort-based studies as a means of making access to professional quality market research more equitable for arts organizations of all types, not just those with access to foundation grants.
Assessing the intrinsic impacts of arts experiences continues be a focus of his work, most recently through projects with the Canada Council for the Arts, the Australia Council for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Theatre Bay Area. His influential paper, “Measuring the intrinsic impacts of arts attendance” (co-authored with Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard) was published in the journal Cultural Trends. From 2012-2015, Alan and his staff led a large capacity building program for 46 performing arts grantees of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to learn from audiences. The capstone paper from this initiative, “Building Capacity for Audience Research,” takes stock of lessons learned.
Understanding patterns of arts participation has been a career focus of Alan’s. With Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard, Alan prepared Research Report #54 for the National Endowment for the Arts, Beyond Attendance: A Multi-Modal Understanding of Arts Participation. Recognizing the need for better approaches to measuring participation, Alan has designed and developed measurement systems that communities can use to track levels of public engagement in arts and culture, including the Philadelphia Cultural Engagement Index, a Province-wide study of arts participation for the Ontario Arts Council, and a study of patterns of arts participation in Greater Cincinnati for ArtsWave. In 2014, Alan led a team of consultants in an analysis of the cultural ecosystem of Northwest Arkansas, providing the Walton Family Foundation with an assessment of gaps in the infrastructure and strategies for filling them.
With funding support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Alan completed a multi-site study of student engagement in the performing arts for a consortium of university presenters led by the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College, and an assessment of concert format innovations for the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. His essay, “All the World’s a Stage: Venues and Settings and the role they play in shaping patterns of arts participation” was published by Grantmakers in the Arts, and appears in the book, The audience experience: A critical analysis of audiences in the performing arts (University of Chicago Press, 2013).
Applied audience research, including customer segmentation, remains a thrust of Alan’s work, with recent studies for Cal Performances, University Musical Society, Steppenwolf, Stratford Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, South Coast Rep, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne Opera Festival, Pacific Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, Chicago History Museum, and Vulcan.
Alan works at the nexus of cohorts of arts organizations striving to build audiences, deepen community connections, and capitalize appropriately. In partnership with Arthur Nacht, Alan led a multi-year evaluation of Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Leading For The Future initiative, a groundbreaking grant program building on the principles of capitalization to transform nonprofit arts organizations, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. He has evaluated several other grant programs for Duke, including the Doris Duke Building Demand for the Arts program. Alan advises the Flinn Foundation (Phoenix) on its Initiative for Creative and Financial Health, supporting the work of a portfolio of Arizona’s largest cultural institutions to learn and implement stronger capitalization plans. In 2016, Alan was engaged by The Wallace Foundation to design and facilitate cross-site learning for a cohort of 24 grantees working to build audiences.
While research and evaluation comprise the majority of Alan’s work, he occasionally leads strategic planning efforts in situations where the planning work depends on a more substantial approach to stakeholder interviews and market research. In 2020 Alan completed a large planning effort for the Flint Institute of Music. Additionally, he has completed planning assignments for Dancers’ Group, the Bay Area service organization, Michigan Opera Theatre, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Pacific Symphony, and Symphony of Northwest Arkansas.
As a contribution to the field, he developed the CultureLab.net website – a knowledge hub and archiving solution for students, researchers and practitioners working in the cultural sector. He has chaired the Cultural Research Network, a worldwide network of researchers working in the cultural sector, and speaks frequently at conferences in the US and overseas.
Prior to joining WolfBrown, Alan held various positions with AMS Planning & Research Corp., and served for five years as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, where he presented Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and many other artists. He holds three degrees from the University of Michigan: a Master of Business Administration, a Master of Music in Arts Administration and a Bachelor of Musical Arts in vocal performance. After living on both coasts, he resettled to Detroit in 2017, in hopes of participating in the cultural renaissance of that great American city.