World Arts West (WAW) presents the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, an annual showcase event of dance traditions from around the world. In 2009, WAW commissioned WolfBrown to engage in planning work with a two-fold objective: 1), conduct audience research to fulfill evaluation requirements for WAW’s Wallace Excellence Awards grant; and 2), facilitate the integration of the use of Wallace-related research in the strategic planning process.

The Wallace evaluation focused on the underlying triggers and causes of Festival attendance. Multiple qualitative and quantitative research efforts were utilized, including: audition audience surveys (administered during auditions), post-audition focus groups (recruited via audience survey in lobby), artists community meetings with 13 different dance communities, key informant interviews, post-festival audience focus groups (recruited via email), and post-festival online audience surveys (administered via email the Monday after each weekend performance). All of the survey protocols were developed with significant input from WAW staff and focused on previous and current experiences with the Festival, connections to dance, motivations for attendance (both to the audition and the Festival), transmission of information about the Festival, and overall satisfaction and rating of strategic direction and potential programs WAW might implement in the future. Surprisingly, the research found that a majority of survey respondents (78%) had no personal connection to performers in the 2010 Festival, disproving the long-held assumption that Festival attendance was driven substantially by personal relationships with performers. The results also demonstrated that moving forward, WAW should focus on attracting and retaining first-time attendees who are more likely to be younger and of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

From the onset of the Wallace research, WolfBrown also engaged a core team of WAW staff and board members to begin brainstorming about WAW’s future goals and the means to achievement. This strategic planning process was divided into four phases: orientation and situational analysis, constituent input, strategy development and vetting, and the finalization and adoption of the plan. Three “Strategy Salons” were built into the planning process to allow for relaxed discussion and contemplation of alternative strategies. Informed by the simultaneous Wallace research, the strategic planning process produced four main goals with four strategies to achieve fruition: 1) transform the Bay Area region each June through an ever-widening celebration of dance; 2) provide artist communities with opportunities to learn, practice, and tell their stories; 3) create a more participatory, multi-sensory Festival experience; and 4) get more children and adults dancing. Operating strategies to realign the business model around this new strategic focus were also determined: 1) establish a sustainable presence in San Francisco, the East Bay, and the South Bay; 2) broaden the formats and settings in which dance is presented; 3) enfranchise artists; and 4) re-align WAW's governance model. A final draft of the strategic plan was presented to the board of directors and was subsequently approved.

Consultants: Alan Brown, Rebecca Ratzkin
Year Complete: 2010