Are opera and ballet even relevant anymore?

Are opera and ballet even relevant anymore?

By HAN Shuang, JAIN Nivedita, ZHANG Yao

FEDORA – The European Circle of Philanthropists of Opera and Ballet is here to convince you they very much are. 

The fast-paced multicultural era in which we live has forced us to attribute less importance to art forms such as opera and ballet. We tend to get detached from emotions and feelings and focus only on digital experiences, everything that opera or ballet are not. 

FEDORA recognises the impact of the performing arts, and also understands the problem of generational divides. It understands that the core audience that tends to visit opera houses is not growing any younger, calling for a shift in audience preferences. As the younger generation approaches its prime and has the power of decision making, it is important for the opera and ballet industries to shift their focus towards this demographic to ensure it doesn’t witness slow death of itself. 

Shifting of focus implies a change in performance programmes; creativity in communication; blurring the boundaries between so-called ‘sophisticated’ artforms and more pop-culture styles like hip-hop; and technological innovation. FEDORA promotes this growth and innovation beyond the conventional styles of opera and ballet through its prestigious FEDORA Prizes Competition. Held each year, “the world’s largest opera and ballet competition” was initiated by Jérôme-François Zieseniss, President of FEDORA, in tribute to Rolf Liebermann. Through this competition it not only offers a platform for budding talents to showcase their ideas, but also provides them with the resources to bring their project to life. Applicants can compete on four different fronts: opera, ballet, education, and digital. The winner of each prize is selected by a professional expert jury. They receive substantial financial prize to support the realisation of their projects, thanks to the support of private sponsors Generali, Van Cleef & Arpels and Keaney, as well as a private foundation. Additionally, the projects can raise funds through crowdfunding. Over the last six years and under the presidency of Jérôme-François Zieseniss, FEDORA has supported 18 innovative projects with €1.5 million through private sponsoring and around €100,000 collected through crowdfunding. These efforts have contributed significantly to the development of opera and ballet across Europe and beyond. 

Edilia Gänz, an MSc in Marketing & Creativity (MMK) alumna, is the Director of FEDORA. She was listed in Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Europe for her incredibly successful efforts to encourage this renewal in the field of opera and ballet. 

Our Company Consultancy Project with FEDORA started as they approached the end of the FEDORA Prizes Competition 2020. While FEDORA’s larger vision is to promote innovation in opera and ballet and draw in younger artists and audiences to preserve these arts, it is necessary to acknowledge the role that crowdfunding has in making this happen. Our primary goal was to ‘growth-hack’ their crowdfunding targets for the participating projects in the ongoing FEDORA Prizes Competition. 

Why growth-hack? 

The deadline for fundraising and meeting the goals had already been extended to the end of October; the performing arts had been badly hit by the impact of Covid-19, andthe sector needed more time to adjust and develop solutions while navigating this crisis situation. 

Our Company Consulting Project kicked-off in the first week of October, allowing for one month to contribute to boosting the fundraising campaigns. The artists’ hopes were dependent on our collaborative efforts. 

Raising funds for the performing arts has always been a tough task due to an existing mindset that believes that there are more critical issues to deal with right now, such as hunger and poverty. This unfortunately predominant attitude was further magnified during the pandemic. But Covid-19 has impacted the livelihoods of artists, too, with theatres shut down indefinitely. Many do not realise that donating to the performing arts indirectly provides a source of income to these artists, helping them to meet daily needs such as food and accommodation costs, and also maintain a profession. It is a vicious circle: without the skills and the right amount of funding, artists cannot create content showcasing their idea with the goal of pitching for donations. And without the content, the donors can’t have a clear understanding of what the artistic projects are about. 

The goal of our project was to assist FEDORA in developing new, out-of-the-box strategies to boost online visibility and support for the FEDORA Prize recipients. 

In 2019, the global crowdfunding market was valued at 13.9 billion U.S. dollars and was forecast to triple by 2026, indicating a wide range of opportunities to be explored. Cultural production has stood at the forefront of crowdfunding adoption, representing some of the first crowdfunding campaigns on record. While a variety of types of models are available, crowdfunding in the cultural sector is predominantly reward-based and mostly revolves around the presale of a product or service. However, the steady decrease in arts funding across Europe has forced opera and ballet to get creative. 

The MMK prepared us to explore the boundaries within this sector throughout our CCP with a constant goal of achieving visible results beyond only theory. As a form of research, we conducted focus group studies and interviews which enabled us to understand the real needs of a potential donor. Indeed, our primary learning through this was the need to humanise the entire process of crowdfunding. As such, we recommended innovative approaches while respecting the constraints of lockdowns, which included live events through Instagram Live or Zoom, more involvement of artists in the crowdfunding campaigns, gamification and lottery-based donations, and more. In addition to co-developing ideas for fundraising strategies, we realised the importance of digital communications and user experience to make it happen. Through this we were able to expand our suggestions to a holistic communications strategy, including aspects of target-audience analysis, social media and SEO, website design, content creation and potential collaborations for increased visibility. 

Edilia Gänz and Müge Altay (Platform Coordinator, FEDORA) were more than open to our thoughts and ideas, which gave us the freedom to brainstorm together and also critically analyse the most feasible possibilities for the FEDORA Platform. Despite working across three time zones (China, India and Europe) and never being able to meet together in-person, we are proud of the value we could create together. At the end of this year’s fundraising phase, the nominated projects successfully raised more than five times what was achieved in 2019. This was also thanks to an innovative matching funds initiative, set up by FEDORA Education Prize nominees, Going for Gold from the Birmingham Opera Company, with the support of the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation (UK). 

Overall, we now understand the potential of crowdfunding, whether it be for a new start-up or a social cause. Often, the reason for a donation made may not be altruistic, but to fulfil the demand of the person reaching out to ask for donations. Remember that sometimes the impact made by the person making the request is more significant than the donor’s existing interest in the cause, and this strategy can greatly contribute to the success of your fundraising campaign! 

We would like to express our special thanks to Prof. Marie Taillard for trusting us with the FEDORA Company Consultancy Project, and Ms. Veronique Colbert, our tutor, who supported us throughout the period of this task with her many years of expertise. Extended gratitude to all our professors from the MMK for preparing us to be capable of delivering strong results in a professional context.