$5 Is Just the Ticket to Attract Students to Arts Performances

Discounted arts tickets brings more students to concerts, shows

The $5 arts ticket is bringing more students out for nicholasleichterdance and other arts performances

During her first two years at Duke, Jackie Ou would occasionally buy arts tickets for major performers on campus. But this year, the junior is making a habit of it.

The difference is the $5 Arts Ticket program, which encourages students to attend Duke arts performances by offering discounted tickets. Ou said the program means she now makes more snap decisions to attend shows and concerts.

"I definitely go see more shows than last year," Ou said. "Five dollars, that's so cheap “ and it's right on campus, only two seconds from my dorm."

Based on programs at DartmouthCollege and the University of Richmond, the $5 Arts Ticket program is in the first year of a two-year experiment. The idea was to set a ticket price that would attract students to events that they wouldn't consider attending at a higher price, said Richard Riddell, special assistant to President Richard H. Brodhead and arts adviser to Provost Peter Lange.

Riddell and other Duke officials say the subsidy experiment has been a success so far. Last year Duke Performances sold about 1,700 student tickets ranging in price from $5 to $25. This year more than 4,800 student tickets have been sold to 27 shows in the Duke Performances program. In addition, Theatre Previews, which has had 31 performance nights of two different shows, has sold 986 of the $5 tickets.

That accounts for a more than 300 percent increase in student arts ticket purchases in one year.

"Our idea was if Friday night came along and students have $5 in their pockets, they would think about going to the ballet just as they would think of going to the movie theatre," Riddell said.

Duke officials said they are looking at improving the program's effectiveness. Officials can't track the ratio of undergraduate to graduate student ticket purchases, but other feedback indicates that the cheap tickets are especially attractive to graduate students.

Kathy Silbiger, director of Duke Performances, said one way to possibly improve the program is to effectively communicate with undergraduates about events. In addition, undergraduates tend not to plan very far ahead, and Silbiger said this can mean they will miss out on sold-out events.

"At the beginning of the school year students might not be ready to commit to buying a ticket for a show, like Bobby McFerrin, that isn't until April," she said. "We still need to work at getting the message out that the subsidy does not guarantee a ticket, only the opportunity to purchase them at the five dollar rate as available."

In an effort to better fit the initiative into undergraduates' lifestyles, Silbiger said she might organize a "showcase" at the beginning of the school year to inform students about the year's performing arts events and the discounted ticket opportunities.

This year, $5 tickets have been available for Theatre Previews and Duke Performances events. One event was co-sponsored by the Duke Union. The Union may participate more in the subsidy program next year, Silbiger said.

The program will return next year -- $50,000 from the provost's Strategic Initiative Fund will fund the subsidy next year. But beyond that a long-term financial source will have to be found, Silbiger said.

"It's important to understand that we essentially lose money on the student tickets because we can charge more to the public and they will pay it. But we feel it's important to make these events as accessible as possible to students," she said.

"I consider this experiment to be a success," Silbiger added. "We will look for a source of ongoing support for this program because we really think it's made a difference and we'll be refining it to try to make it even more effective."

At a recent performance of nicholasleichterdance, Duke junior Quynh Tran agreed that the price does make a difference. "I wouldn't be here otherwise. I don't even have $20 in my bank account right now," she said with a laugh.