Theo-what? Shedding light on Theoroi, Schubert Club’s arts ambassador program

I regularly find myself discussing and answering questions about our very unique young professionals program, Theoroi, with audience members, colleagues in the industry and even our own Board Members. Many people have heard a little about this group, and it has caught their intrigue, but don’t fully understand what the program is and how it fits into Schubert Club’s offerings. So because this is something I am asked about so frequently, I will dedicate this blog post to shedding some light on this complicated and unique program that we’re very proud of.

So, to start: Theoroi is a program that was started in 2011 in an effort to connect more young people to the Schubert Club in a meaningful way. The idea was to introduce new people to a wide variety of arts performances in an effort to give them the chance to sample all kinds of different art forms and pick and choose what they like. Of course, a good sampling of Schubert Club concerts are sprinkled in each season’s schedule with the hope that many of the young participants will come away with a devotion to our organization and our offerings.

Each ten-month season features six or more different events and offers a variety of genres including classical music, dance, jazz, world music, theater, and opera. As much as I’m able, I try to arrange some sort of extra enrichment opportunity for the group such as backstage tours or Q&A sessions with the artists or production staff. I also arrange some sort of social opportunity for each event to encourage the group to get to know each other well and form deep friendships.

We are able to accommodate between 20 to 30 individuals (all ages 21-39) each season. Each participant has to submit a written application stating their interest and making a commitment to participate for a 10 month season. The application period runs from June-August with the season spanning September-June. The cost to participate is highly subsidized by the Schubert Club, so to guarantee a solid commitment from each member and to be sure tickets that have been paid for aren’t going unused, in addition to the cost to participate, each member is also required to make a deposit that is refunded at the completion of the program.

If you remember, 2011 was when Twitter, Facebook and blogging were just becoming very mainstream, and there was a lot of excitement about implementing these tools into the audience experience at concerts. So to jump on board the social media bandwagon, we decided one of the core components of this group would be a requirement to use social media leading up to or after each event the group attended. Activating each user’s social media network would expand the reach of this program beyond just those participating to the hundreds and hundreds of people who are connected to each of the participants through social networks. The idea was that by asking the members to post about their experiences, they will show their peers, “Hey, look, the arts are cool. The arts are for young people. Look at all the great opportunities we have in the Twin Cities!”

The name Theoroi was chosen (despite being a very difficult word to pronounce) because much like the Theoroi of Ancient Greece, whose job it was to journey to festivals as ambassadors and announce and invite others to these celebrations, the members of Schubert Club’s Theoroi act as ambassadors of the arts by spreading the word about their cultural experiences through interactive social media outlets.

So here we are, nearing the completion of year six of the program, and I’d like to share a list of many of the successes of this program so far.

  • Out of about 115 total participants, over 40 have gone on to attend other Schubert Club performances; 14 have made financial contributions and six have gone on to become Board Members!
  • Word of mouth has caught on, and most new participants are a result of positive word of mouth from past or current members, and many people choose to participate for several years in a row (despite an increased cost for returning members).
  • The typical participant has no prior association with the Schubert Club and is a novice to many, if not most, of the different art forms featured in our season.
  • The varied season gives participants a wide variety of experiences which lets everyone come away learning what they like and dislike and hopefully exposing the group to many performances they might not have otherwise attended, fostering a well-rounded appreciation of the arts.
  • Not only are we aiding in the audience development efforts for Schubert Club specifically, but we are assisting audience development initiatives across the entire Twin Cities arts scene. In doing so, the Schubert Club has been recognized as a leader in the area of helping to grow Twin Cities’ audiences.
  • This program gives us the opportunity to form close ties with the audience development, ticketing, and marketing teams at other arts organizations and form collaborative relationships.
  • The last two years have quickly met capacity before the application deadline even passed.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into the list of challenges in this post, but I will say that that list is much, much shorter. It is encouraging to see so many young people having very positive experiences at so many of our events and going on to further their engagement with both the Schubert Club and many other Twin Cities arts organizations. I am grateful to the Schubert Club Board for viewing this program as a priority and giving me the opportunity to be involved in such an impactful program.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting involved, watch our website for the application process starting in June, or even better yet, shoot me an email and let me know you’re interested, and I’ll be sure to remind you when it’s time to apply!

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