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Mae Saul

Summer in Madison: Applying the MBA Core Curriculum to Concerts on the Square

by Mae Saul Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Two weeks ago I saw what 30,000+ picnicking Madisonians look like. 30,000 people in downtown Madison is a lot of people, but the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) regularly attracts that many concert goers or more during their summer series, Concerts on the Square. I have to say that before I started my summer internship with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, I was skeptical of that figure. 30,000 people is roughly one eighth of the entire population of the city of Madison and I wasn’t sure that many people would even fit downtown. But after my first Concert on the Square, I think I’ve been convinced that there were easily 30,000 if not 40,000 people at the capitol grounds - every square inch of grass was covered with a picnic blanket, and folding chairs lined the perimeter of the street that winds its way around the capitol. 

Concerts on the Square is the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s most popular concert series by far and is attended in droves, by thousands of people who don’t necessarily attend the WCO’s year round concert series at the Overture Center for the Arts. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but not necessarily surprising for a town like Madison. Summer in Madison is the season of outdoor festivals and any excuse to get outside and attend an event is one that the locals take advantage of with relish. But, 30,000 people are a lot of people. So, who are these concert goers?  Are they die-hard classical music fans?  Do they love the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, classical music or just live outdoor music in general? What else do they do with their free time, during the summer and during the other months of the year? These are questions that would be very valuable for the WCO to be able to answer, so that’s what I’ve been given the opportunity to do this summer - help the WCO learn more about their Concerts on the Square audience. 

This project has been particularly exciting for me as I’ve been able to apply skills I acquired through the first year MBA core curriculum. At WCO, I’ve had the opportunity to lead a marketing research study for the Concerts on the Square series through a survey of audience members who attend these concerts. It’s been a particularly valuable experience for me as both a business student and an arts administrator. I spent the first part of my summer internship creating a survey that will provide valuable insight into the Concerts on the Square audience and the second half I will spend collecting answers to these questions. I’ve been able to use the tools I’ve gained at business school to answer questions that are important to the arts in general as we try to better understand and serve our communities and our audience: Who is our audience? What motivates them to attend our programs specifically? In what other activities do they participate?  How do we create programming that best serves them? This has been a valuable exercise for me because I think that Concerts on the Square is a good example for other organizations hoping to create programs that appeal to an audience that is not representative of their core supporters. That is, Concerts on the Square does not attract the same audience that Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s indoor, year-round season does and that’s an important thing to understand as WCO begins to think about how to more effectively fulfill their mission of serving “diverse local and regional audiences.” I also never thought I’d be excited about using my new statistics skills, but I can’t wait to take a look at the data at the end of the summer and use my business education to help WCO understand their community and their audience!