New Software Artfully Connects Theatres With Their Audiences
By Robert Simonson
Playbill.com chats with the founder of Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit dedicated "to building smart technology for artists," which recently launched the new software system Artful.ly.
"If you're a little theatre company with a $50,000 budget, you can't pay $150,000 for software," said Adam Huttler.
That little piece of obvious reasoning was part of the reason that Huttler, the founder of Fractured Atlas — a nonprofit dedicated "to building smart technology for artists" — created Artful.ly, the artfully named new software system designed to change how smaller arts groups sell tickets, raise funds and build their audiences. The system officially launched Oct. 21.
"The main thing it does," explained Huttler, whose background is in theatre, and who began his career as a director, "is put the all the data that matters to a company's work in one place, especially in terms of the people they interact with — the donors and theatregoers. I remember doing an informal audit of one company's records. The same donor was recorded in 17 different places. That is not unusual. You've got ticketing over here, accounting over here, fund-raising over there. There's a lot of repetition. Artful.ly aimed to simplify it all."
So far, it's done just that for the troupes that have employed it.
The four-year-old Ensemble Theater of Chattanooga was one of the several small companies that tested a beta version of the system. "We were looking for box-office software," explained Christy Gallo, public relations director of ETC. "One of our ensemble members came to us and said, 'I use Franctured Atlas and I love it, and they are doing a beta test,'" on something new.
"We were still a small growing company," Gallo added. "We didn't need something huge. We wanted something we could grow into. Artful.ly was a perfect fit for us."
The company first used Artful.ly when presenting a production of Avenue Q in early 2013, and, Gallo said, "It worked great." In the past, ETC has utilized PayPal or Brown Paper Tickets, both of which direct theatregoers to their website in order to purchase tickets. That arrangement, pointed out Gallo, "kept all the information from being in one spot." With the new software, "People, for the first time, were able to buy tickets directly from our own website. It made reporting and organization a breeze. It makes tracking an event remarkably simple."
Most importantly to outfits with lean budgets, arts organizations like ETC can use Artful.ly at no charge, though the system does levy a $2 service fee to ticket buyers. That fee goes to Fractured Atlas, which spent $2 million — largely culled from grants — developing the software.
Artful.ly can also be used to make marketing efforts more efficient and their results more clearly understood. "Theatre companies can connect the dots," said Huttler. "Say that this patron got this newsletter and didn't open it. The next one got one, and opened up and bought a ticket. From the results, you can find out what's the best marketing content to use, what's the best time to send an appeal, etc."
Among Artful.ly's other facets are the ability to integrate ticketing and fundraising directly onto a theatre company's website; a way to track all walk-up sales; and a single "dashboard," on which troupes can view a patron’s entire history, "from ticket purchases and donations to contact information and eblasts."
The project went through 18 months of testing. Other "guinea pig" companies included New York’s Third Rail Projects, Austin’s Fuxebox Festival, Florida’s Tampa Rep and D.C.’s Pointless Theatre. Fusebox had gone through eight different data-management systems in its first eight years before settling on Artful.ly.
Third Rail found the year-long test period particularly rewarding. "They were really open to our feedback," said Elizabeth Carena, Third Rail's managing director, "and it was really useful to see our suggestions go into effect."
Third Rail has been presenting a long-running show called Then She Fell since fall 2012, and, Carena said, "When we started using Artful.ly, there was a screen on the system that displayed all your shows. Once we got past 300 shows, you had to scroll down a lot to get to the current show. Fractured Atlas had never encountered a situation like that. So they added a filter so we see only upcoming shows, the shows that are in the future — which was a huge change for us."
Prior to this, Third Rail had never used a ticketing system of its own. Now, it plans to continue with Artful.ly. "We just launched our fall campaign, our annual appeal," said Carena. "Using Artful.ly, when someone buys a ticket and gives a donation at the same time, we get all that information in the same place. Now, we a get a snapshot of each patron."
Huttler got into the software business via a circuitous route. He studied theatre at Reed College, the British American Drama Academy, and Sarah Lawrence, and later received his MBA at NYU. He then founded a production company, meant to foster his work as a director.
"It started out as a theatre company and it quickly evolved," Huttler said. "It didn't take me long to figure out my talents were better suited to the business side of things, to help companies who didn't have the big resources and big institutions available to them." Fractured Atlas relaunched itself in 2002 as a service organization, and, within one year, now has 100 new clients.
Huttler sees Fractured Atlas, which employs 31 people, as a necessary entity in the world of small arts enterprises, where an affinity with the business side of things is often in short supply.
"As a conceptual level, arts people need a translator," he said. "Someone who understands how they work and speaks their language, but can help them navigate the worlds of business and law, that are part of doing the business of art, but that they don't cover in your MFA program."
Huttler said Fractured Atlas now has as least one member in all 435 congressional districts. This diversity could be credited to the fact that everything Fractured Altas creates is available on the internet. "From day one, all our services were accessible online," explained Huttler. "We want to be as accessible in Boise as in the East Village."
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