Attendance lower for Bowlus shows

Attendance for performances at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center is down significantly from previous years, director Daniel Kays told USD 257 school board members Monday.


Local News

March 14, 2023 - 2:43 PM

Show attendance is down this season at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Register file photo

Supporters of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center will need to get creative to entice visitors to return to shows.

Attendance at the performing arts center has not recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and in fact seems to be even lower than last year. 

Director Daniel Kays believes people are cutting back on entertainment purchases because of inflation, and because people prefer to stay home after learning new habits and hobbies during the pandemic. 

“We lost getting out and going out and seeing things,” Kays told USD 257 board members at a meeting Monday evening. “And the economy is not helping.”

It seems to be a national problem, as attendance is down across the board for arts and entertainment activities, Kays said. 

Kays expects total ticket sales this year to fall well short of the $51,000 in revenue he had projected. Currently, he expects sales to be around $37,000. 

An event that brought Garrison Keillor to the Bowlus stage in February sold about 338 tickets; other shows did not surpass 300 in ticket sales. 

A year ago, attendance at most Bowlus shows was between 450 to 500. 

The Bowlus board invested more money in marketing and increased fundraising efforts this year. The center also was hit by costly facility improvements, such as sewer work and a new fire alarm system required by the state. The Bowlus applied for a grant to help pay for the fire alarm work, but it was denied; Kays had to pull $50,000 out of the budget for projects to pay for the expense. 

“We’ve got to get this community back to understanding what this venue is and the value of it,” Kays said.

He plans to increase “grassroots efforts” for marketing, such as having booths at the county fair and Farm City Days. Kays expects to spend less on printed promotional products and invest more in digital advertising. He’d like to install a new digital sign in front of the Bowlus to alert passers-by about activities. 

The current digital sign was installed in 2009.

“It seems bleak but we’re doing OK. We have reserves,” he said. 

KAYS also gave board members a sneak peak at some of the acts he’s working to secure for next year’s season. Negotiations are continuing for some, so he did not want to publicly reveal them.

The coming season, though, will have more of a “tribute” feel, with performers connected to famous musical acts from previous decades. Some acts will come from Branson, Mo. Others will serve a dual purpose with shows planned for both the community and schools.

USD 257 Board Chair Jennifer Taylor, who also serves on the Bowlus commission, asked Kays how the board members and the community can help.

“I need advocacy. I need people to come to shows. I need help pushing the shows,” Kays responded. “Make sure people know about the Bowlus and get them back into the habit of coming here.”



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