Mayor’s Arts Award: TeenTix


It’s a question most arts organizations ask, but few have found a lasting solution for: How to attract, engage and retain the next generation of arts-going audiences? Over the past decade Seattle Repertory Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera, among others, have all experimented with various programs to bring in the 20-and-30-something set—often some combination discounted tickets, parties, and themed cocktail nights. There is one organization however, that aims at attracting an even younger crowd. Not only does TeenTix want to help teenagers attend local art, it gives them an outlet to engage with other teenagers about what they’ve seen, hopefully sparking a continued (even lifelong) support of the arts. Providing this demographic with opportunities to discuss and critique art and performance gives them a non-intimidating (read: adult-free) platform share their opinions, making them stronger critics in the future and diversifying the overall creative cultural fabric of the city.

Founded 10 years ago by Seattle Center, TeenTix is a program that provides teenagers ages 13-19 years old with access to $5 day-of-show tickets at 53 arts organizations around Puget Sound. With a low barrier to entry—all an individual has to do is sign up for a free Teen Tix pass—55,000 kids have signed up since the program’s inception, and more than 45,000 ticket purchases have been facilitated. The five-dollar tickets are an easy sell, but TeenTix strives to provide more than just a cheap seat to the ballet.

“Our goal is to nurture future citizens who have a passion for the arts, and to leverage arts participation as the critical form of civic engagement we think it is," says Holly Arsenault, executive director of TeenTix. “A lot of people who just take a passing glance at what we do think of it as primarily a discount ticket piece and that’s really just the hook that we use to create and define this emerging community.”

One way they do that is by offering an arts leadership and mentorship program called New Guard, which allows members to give feedback about TeenTix itself and matches members with mentors from partnering organizations; mentorships often focus on arts management, arts marketing, fundraising and artistic planning.

TeenTix is not only helping to cultivate young arts appreciators, they are training the next generation of critics. The Young Critics Workshop teaches TeenTix members about the process of reviewing and writing about the arts, and the Teen Press Corps is currently made up of around 80 members who attend shows and events then write about them for the TeenTix blog. This fall, in addition to the Young Critics Workshop, they will be adding a Culture Writing Class taught by author Danielle Henderson.

“The biggest challenge we find they have is owning their ignorance,” Arsenault says. “The reason we started the blog was because we saw there was no place for young people to learn about and be in dialogue with their peers. The only place they could hear about the art they were engaging with was adult writing.”

For some, TeenTix opens an unexpected path into the arts not just as a patron, but as a profession. For 24-year-old Ashraf Hasham, a former member and Young Critics Workshop attendee, it started as something new to do with friends on a Friday night.

“When I was about 15 or 16 TeenTix just kind of came into my life because of some friends,” the former Ballard High School student says. “They were getting ready to dress up and go to the symphony one weekend, and they invited me. It was a world that I wasn’t familiar with, and didn’t know existed in my city, and that was exciting. It inspired me to get out of my comfort zone.”

Hasham is still involved in the arts, serving as the Development Associate at the Henry Art Museum and house manager at On the Boards. He also sits on the TeenTix Steering Committee.

At 10 years old, TeenTix is starting to take its own steps into adulthood. Last year, they program started the transition to becoming an independent organization, which is slated to be complete by January 2016. Arsenault says that it has always been in program’s structure to transform, and it will take a total of three years to move from a Seattle Center public program into a Seattle Center resident organization. Two years ago TeenTix received a grant from Washington State Arts Commission and the Wallace Foundation that permitted them to research and build their own website—a crucial element to the heart of the program. That, coupled with the constant support from Seattle Center (through office space, Internet, phone lines and more) provided a sturdy launch pad for the transition.

“We did it because it was clear that, in order to flourish, TeenTix needed the freedom to define and pursue a mission independent of a parent organization,” she notes. “It also makes it possible for us to pursue some funding and earned income avenues that we couldn't in our previous structure.”

TeenTix may be growing up, but according to Arsenault they will continue to have the same core values. “Our goal is not to get teenagers to develop a relationship to TeenTix,” she says. “We want to them develop that relationship with the arts organizations, and hopefully continue to support them even as they age out of the program.”

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