Breaking down barriers that prevent teens from accessing the arts with TeenTix

Shelton Harris shares TeenTix's mission and how they're using technology to connect their youth with the arts.


Austin: Today we're going to be speaking with Shelton Harris, marketing and partnerships manager at TeenTix. Shelton, welcome to the show. 

Shelton: Hey, thanks for having me, man. How are you doing? 

Austin: I'm doing pretty well. We're hanging on here. 

Shelton: Beautiful. 

Austin: For those in our audience who aren't already familiar, could you talk a little bit about TeenTix and your mission?

Shelton: Yeah, a hundred percent. So yes, as Austin mentioned, my name is Shelton. I'm the marketing and partnerships manager at TeenTix, admittedly, fairly new. I only started the job at the top of January, so top of 2020, but TeenTix is a youth service organization that's in the art space that basically works to create equity and opportunity for young people in the arts community. Specifically teenagers, age 13 to 19. 

Shelton: TeenTix started in, it was founded in 2004 by someone that loved the arts. She was super into dance and theater and just was wondering why there wasn't much of a young presence at these events when she went to them.

Shelton: And I think she realized several problems, like ticket prices are too high, or there weren't people in their lives already that were championing the arts and just like it, it wasn't being made an easy experience for a young person to say they wanted to go to the opera, they wanted to go to the theater, or see a musical, or something like that.

Shelton: And so that I think was the problem that was set out to fix. And so how it started was the resident organizations on Seattle center campus. So like the, the Seattle opera Pacific Northwest ballet, the Pacific science center, a few little odds and ends, organizations like that. 

Shelton: Basically, we set it up, or I won't say we, cause I wasn't there at the time. They set it up so that anybody who set up a free account with TeenTix, and that's the beauty of the TeenTix passes. It's free for the teens to sign up. There's absolutely no strings attached. And whether they use it or don't use it, and what that pass grants them the access to is $5 tickets to any one of our partner organizations.

Shelton: And at the humble beginning, it was only, like I said, a handful of organizations, resident organizations on Seattle center campus. But that's evolved now to about 75 different arts organizations, not just in Seattle, but in, you know, our surrounding cities. Tacoma, Bellevue, Edmonds, stuff like that as well.

Shelton: And it's broken out into like, there's almost nothing that a young person can experience with their TeenTix pass. They can go to the science center, they can see a ballet and they can go to like, there's movies, movie theaters that accept the pass and you know, live music like symphony and opera and just various things like that.

Shelton: There's this, like you'd have to check out the list. It's truly impressive how many different organizations there are, but that's kind of the flagship program that kind of inspired TeenTix and what it is. And so here we are, 16 years later, fortunate to still be carrying out this mission.

Austin: That's awesome. I had obviously read a good portion of your website before this interview, but I didn't realize kind of the depth that you guys did. 

Shelton: When I came into this, cause my background is the music industry, management and marketing. And so when I came into this role, my big priority was, the first thing I noticed was that a lot of like the light, like the traditional live music venues, like you know like the clubs that you'd see, like a band or a rapper or a singer or something at work partners. And there's a lot of intricacies as to why it's just a really competitive business as a industry as opposed to a lot of the other arts industries.

Shelton: But that's kind of my mission is to eventually get independent club owners and concert promoters to understand that, you know, music is art as well. And it's just as important for a young person to be able to access those as the theater or the opera. And so that's kind of one of my personal goals for working in the organization is to get music being a larger branch of it.

Austin: Yeah. That sounds like you'd be able to leverage a lot of your prior connections and really grow the types of venues that teens could partake in. 

Shelton: Yeah, absolutely. And it's only gotten bigger and bigger, especially in the last few years, like as I think our presence has shifted greatly since we went through, and this is speaking a little bit to your tech side of things.

Shelton: We went through a website upgrade last year that kind of revolutionized TeenTix's model at least as opposed to the original software. So originally up until early last year, you had to have that physical pass that we sent out in the mail. Like you'd sign up for it, we'd get your information right, we'd send you a physical pass, and you would absolutely, you'd have to have that pass to go to the event.

Shelton: But now that we've, we've got a new website that now issues a digital pass. The moment you create an account. Right. And that pass can now be used from the smartphone. You know, whatever. It could be printed out and stuck in your wallet. There's just, we've increased the accessibility. We still send out that physical pass, but now a teen could literally go to our website.

Shelton: Right now, I will let you know despite everything going on, obviously, but they can go to our website right now, sign up for a pass. It would literally be active right away. They could then leave the house with the pass immediately and go see an art event for five bucks. That's super convenient. 

Shelton: I kind of resonate with what you said earlier. I didn't know about it seems it has been around this long. I'm only 27 so I could have taken advantage of it at one point, but I didn't know about it until this year, and I think that they've had, I think we're a team six is that is they've had a tremendous, tremendous amount of success in kind of the industries that like the original that the founders were originally in, you know, like in more contemporary, traditional art styles. And I think that as time is progressing, that's kind of, I'm trying to hold on to, you know, what was originally the mission and the heart and soul, but also make it a little bit more relevant and a little bit more contemporary for, you know, younger generation or kids that are coming up now. Just making sure that we're able to adapt and still attract newer, younger teams the same way we have been. 

Austin: It's interesting you say that because when I saw TeenTix and the mission, I immediately thought I would have loved to have gone to all these live music shows, but I feel like I wasn't as exposed to some of these other types of art that your outlining, like I didn't have any expsorue to the ballet growing up or opera, or musicals. Is there a few types of art that teens typically go to more that there's more interest for the ones that are super popular? 

Shelton: Some of the bigger theaters you like the, you know, like the larger theaters that have like full year long scheduled events. What's it called? That the Seattle symphony is pretty popular, that the movie theaters are quite popular. So we were partnered with various different film organizations. But a couple of the larger ones are SIF, which is the Seattle international film festival. And then nifty, which is the national film festival for talented youth.

Shelton: And just a couple of different organizations like that, that not only produce events, but also just exist as a movie theater where you can go and watch films. And so that's one of the perks is, you know, we'll say we're pitching the past to a young person and they say, well, I don't go to the ballet. And it's like, cool.

Shelton: Well, do you watch, do you like to watch movies? And it's like, Oh yeah, I like to watch movies. It's like, cool, well, you know, you could go watch any movie that's playing at the AMC right now at one of these theaters. And when they realized that, that's kind of like the in, you know what I mean? Like that's kind of the low barrier for entry.

Shelton: That is just easy to get someone hooked. And then we just, you know, we love to remind them that by the way, look at these other 75 organizations that you can also participate in. You make a great point that like, I mean, when I was younger, nobody was necessarily saying, Hey, you know, Shelton, do you want to go to the ballet?

Shelton: Or Hey, do you want to go see an opera or anything like that. And so the opportunity just wasn't really there. But I think that's the idea behind the pass is that if the, you know, the risk is lower, it's only $5, it's easy. They can, that any other young person can sign up for a pass as well and go with them.

Shelton: We encourage the art or our partner organizations to host teen nights, which is where we'll kind of partner with them to curate. Kind of a, just make the experience a little bit more special and a little bit more interesting for a young person. And normally what that looks like is like. There'll be like a pre show talk where like the director or some cast members will give kind of their perspective on the show. Talk about what it was like planning for it and just give them some backstory on them as artists in the show itself before they perform. Or they'll do like a Q and A afterwards or they'll set up like the health, like free pizza for the teens or like a photo booth, stuff like that. Like we just, we want them to be more comfortable going to a lot of these places.

Shelton: Cause like the opera house is not going to be a traditional young space. And so we. We try to change that, or we try to basically coach these organizations on how they can be more friendly to young people because they also want to attack that demographic. So that's kind of the other role we play at for our partner organizations, is not just giving young people that access to the art itself, but also kind of being a liaison to teenagers for, you know, these arts organizations that otherwise don't know how to speak to them.

Austin: I never considered the reciprocal nature that it sounds like you guys have with the organizations where you're also, you're kind of advertising for them, getting awareness with the teens of like, Hey, there are these other organizations, these other shows you may be interested in, and it's a low barrier to entry.

Shelton: Yeah, absolutely. And like we, that we very much are like a marketing, more or less a marketing service for some of these organizations. Cause like we signed, you know, we sent out a weekly newsletter and like our whole, everything we do is teen centric youth voice.

Shelton: Like when we like our newsletters, they aren't really there. They aren't really tailored to speak to like adults or people that work in the industry. They're more tailored specifically for young people. Like we're trying to be that. We, we like to believe that we have like the most robust, like calendar and arts offerings, basically like we want, if there's something happening in the city that's art related, we want teens to know about it and we want them to know how to engage with it.

Shelton: And that's the other thing is like, we don't sell the tickets, we don't get any ticket revenue, and none of that money comes to us. The whole mission is to empower these young people to engage with the organization directly. So like if you go. So our website and you look at our calendar and click on an event and like click on the partner page that it's connected to.

Shelton: It's got all the info that a young person would want on how to engage with them. Some of the pages have bus routes on how to get their phone numbers to call. If you have a question about when it starts or just any, anything you'd basically, we try to empower them to take it upon themselves to act. Once they see the events on our calendar, it's been on them to, you know, take their past, go to the, go to the partner.

Shelton: And you know, all the partners are trained to know what the past is and how to accept it. So it's, it's cool. It's like we're kind of putting the power in their hands rather than actually like selling tickets or being an event host ourselves.

Shelton: So whenever some, whenever a teen wants to purchase the ticket from you guys, or not ticket, but purchase the past, what would they need to do. So that, so that the past is like that. Like I mentioned earlier, a hundred percent free, no strings attached. You would go to You click on the account tab up in the right side and you just sign up for a free account.

Shelton: It takes literally 30 seconds. It's a, you know, a few questions about, you know, where you're from, address what school you go to if you're in school, and like what your art interests are. And then a couple of personal questions. And then as soon as you click submit, you instantly receive a digital pass on your dashboard and you can log into your account whenever you'd like, either from a phone or laptop.

Shelton: Like I said, you can print that pass out or you can just show it on your phone whenever you want to go to an event. And so yeah, the process is super streamlined and then they choose when they sign up, whether they want a physical pass or not. So just, you know, not to create waste. We don't just assume and mail it out just because they signed up.

Shelton: We have a little option for them to actually like opt in for it and then if they opt in for it, we get an alert and just, we try to send off the batch of passes about once a week. Okay. Do teens stay up to date with what's going on through your newsletters or website? Yeah. So number of channels. So what we find in when we're like actually speaking to teens, so one thing that's really cool, and I'll just, I'll, I can get in more to this after, but we have a, we have what we call the new guard, which is basically like our teen arts leadership board.

Shelton: And it's super cool because it's essentially like a board of directors that's all teenagers. And what's cool about that is, one, they're getting this hands on work experience of being able to work directly with nonprofits and professionals in the arts world. But too, they keep us super centered on power teams engaging with content.

Shelton: Right now, how are they finding information? We're finding that teams are super big on Instagram, so we make sure to stay heavy on our promotion on there. But yeah, we put out a weekly newsletter that just is kind of, it's almost like a Zen, if you will, of just like various arts events that are happening in the city.

Shelton: We try to promote at least four or five different events that they can attend, and we always link to our calendar. We keep them updated with any internship opportunities. You know, opportunities that our partners are hosting. We like to promote. If there's a cool internship happening at one of our partner organizations, we make sure to promote that as well.

Shelton: We're just trying to, you know, try to be the best resource for a young person that we can really, whether that's directly Artspace or whether that's something for education or potential employment opportunities. Really just trying to make sure that young people have the information they need to make their own smart choices.

Shelton: So you said it was the teen guard is the then, yeah, so the new guard, so yeah, so there are, yeah. So there are a teen arts leadership board. They meet. They meet twice a month and they, they do, they're involved in a lot of our event planning and operations. They're involved in a lot of our fundraising.

Shelton: They're doing, they're actually doing a peer to peer campaign right now where they're speaking with their friends and family and arts community to try to raise funds for their own programs. They actually, they, you know, they have the opportunity to make money in the positions that they're in, which is.

Shelton: You know, obviously super rewarding for our on our end to be able to pay these young people to help us out in like they're kind of like the heart and soul of what teen six really is. Because we always find ourselves in an interesting position of like where it's a super small organization. There's only four full time employees, including myself.

Shelton: And other than that, we just work with interns and volunteers. And so we always try to make sure that those interns and volunteers are. The teenagers, or at least fresh out of college high school so that we could still keep that youth lens and you know, never get ahead of ourselves and always make sure that we're actually not only speaking in the best interest of young people, but communicating with them in a way that it was effective for them.

Shelton: And the new guard helps us do that. Yeah, that seems like a really good opportunity for anybody that wants to give back in the way that TeenTix is already doing and really in their own experience. And they're great kids. Like they're, they're like obsessed with art. It's cool. We always start out with meetings with talking about, you know, what did we see last or what are we working on?

Shelton: Like there. It's super hype. For example, I'm in marketing. There's one team that's super interested in digital marketing, and so I let her like pitch me ideas for the Instagram and stuff like that. And so it's, I dunno, it's cool. I've never worked with, I mean I worked with like artists that are younger, but in terms of literally just directly working with teenagers, I've never really worked with young people like this.

Shelton: So it's, I dunno, it's super cool. It's definitely a non traditional work environment. And how many teens or are involved with the new guard. The new guard right now. Aye. It's in the teams. I want to say it's like 13 of them from like, and we're really like broad with it. Like it's, we, we try to reach out to like different area codes, different schools when we're doing our outreach for the promotion for those roles.

Shelton: Cause then when you to be on the new guard you have to apply for it. Just cause there's, you know, small commitments involved like the by, you know, the bimonthly meetings and certain events and stuff like that. And so we want to make sure that anybody that signs up for it is actually like. Interested interest in it, but yeah, it's like 13 to 15 teams over like 10 or 12 different schools or something like that.

Austin: And do you guys send out postings that are like, we're looking for someone that's interested in marketing? 

Shelton: Not in particular. We, I mean, we, we kind of outline what, so we have interns outside of the new guard that we work with specifically. Like, I'm actually working with a partner organization right now on flavor.

Shelton: They're running a program where they. Basically do hiring and sourcing for interns and they place them at different organizations. And so we've been meeting with that organization to actually get one of the interns placed at ours. And that one specifically would be a marketing intern. So I'm super excited for that because that's going to be my first opportunity to really directly mentor and work alongside somebody specifically in the line of work that I'm in.

Shelton: So I'm super excited about that. And like we do, so the various. I guess branches of what teen six is, is I'm in the marketing and partnerships, but we have a developer development manager give our executive director, and we've got the teen programs manager, so I can speak a little bit more on the programs after this as well.

Shelton: But each of those roles, aside from the executive director, has an intern level position. So I'll have a marketing intern. Our development manager currently has a development coordinator intern, which is a, she's a college student majoring in dance, so she's like super hyped. This is like right up her alley in terms of work experience. And then we also have in, uh, programs and operations manager right now that helps out with a lot of our posting, you know, creating cool graphics and videos for our programs that we post. And you know, a lot of like admin based work and stuff like that. So it's kind of split up that way.

Shelton: The new guard is more so they don't exactly work for us, quote unquote. Like we do pay them a stipend for like the meetings and stuff like that, but they are not. Employees of TeenTix so they're less hands on with the day to day work. They more have their own projects that they work on, but a little bit deeper into programming.

Shelton: We also have a program called the press Corps as well, which I'm sure if you, you might've seen a little bit about that on our website, but the press Corps basically is. It's arts, journalism and arts criticism training, more or less. So we'll basically connect for the partner organization to bring a group of teenagers to an event, and then they'll get to see the event for free, and then also have a series, either one workshop or a series of workshops following the event.

Shelton: That day one might be, okay, let's all talk about what we saw in practice, writing a review on it. And then day two might be, okay, pair up with a partner in, edit each other's review, and then we'll have a teaching artist come in and like actually give like a lecture on, you know, critical thinking and arts and analyzing and stuff like that.

Shelton: And then we will publish those reviews on the website. Or sometimes we'll work with, we work with a organization called Encore that does a lot of interviews with artists and directors and stuff. And every now and then we'll get to place a teen. With them, which is really cool because then a teen actually gets to have their work published in like a real publication that goes out to like a massive press list, which is super cool.

Shelton: I would say that that's one of the more popular sides of TeenTix just cause there's, there's a surprising amount of interest in arts journalism and you know, more so than we thought initially. And so like that's what's cool. It's really about, you know, diving deeper into how can we get teens to not just see art, but engage with it beyond, did you like it or not? You know, like actually dive a little bit deeper. 

Austin: Yeah. I have to say I'm impressed where I feel like every time you talk about a new effort or program or a new direction, it seems like TeenTix really builds upon and just kind of goes even a little bit further. Really getting teens different opportunities to become engrossed with the arts and interact and kind of starting their way on a path toward enjoying art at a very, at the very least, but then also even developing skills that can help them contribute back to the greater arts world.

Shelton: Yeah, definitely. You know, and it's, you know, it's like rewarding on every end because not every young person is interested in making a career out of it. Some people just like, they either want something fun to do or a safe place to go, or people that they call friends. And then, you know, some people are actually taking this seriously.

Shelton: And like, for example, our development managers started out as just a teen six passholder. And then ended up being an intern and working on a couple event committees and now she's the full time development coordinator or you know, development manager at the organization. So it's, it's just super cool. The opportunity that it creates cause it, it leaves space for a young person to try to, make whatever they want out of art. Basically. If you're interested in a career, we'll try to provide all the tools to make that possible, but if you're just trying to go see something every other Saturday, we can, you know, we have space for people like that too. 

Austin: You had mentioned using Instagram and you guys post different graphics and videos and whatnot. How are you guys utilizing social media?

Shelton: So when I came in and I, and I was in teen six has always had a great, I will, I'll say they've always had a pretty great social media presence, but when I came in, well, the one thing that I kind of wanted to shift was I think that the true value, I mean like the, the true value in what we're doing is actually providing this service to teens.

Shelton: And I feel like we did, you weren't showing a lot of that on the social media channels. Like there was a lot of great content and cool pictures, but I feel like. What people really want to see is the work that we're doing. And so I've been trying to focus on documenting our programming, like when we have teams, when we're hosting workshops or when we're taking teams to arts events, or we recently we've been working on a podcast with our press Corps and like I went to the studio while they were working on that and just got some cool pictures and videos and stuff.

Shelton: I feel like. Really, that's the best thing we can do right now is one, be the source for them. So anytime, whether that's posting event flyers or internship opportunities, but outside of that really just show like making teen six look like a fun and safe space and a constructive space for young people.

Shelton: Cause I want, if a picture or a post comes up on someone's timeline, I want them to be, I want them to think, wow, that looks awesome, or that looks like a cool place or that looks like. No, that looks like a place where I could meet some cool people or, Oh, it looks like I can be myself with this organization.

Shelton: Like that's kind of the message that I'm trying to send, and so it's pretty young spirited. It's not too serious. Our Instagram doesn't look like spam or a bunch of advertisements. It just really centers on how can I get this message to this young person in a way that actually speaks to them. 

Austin: Yeah, and it sounds like you're using different channels as well to be able to meet teens wherever they are.

Shelton: Totally. Like I'm learning that not a lot of teens use Facebook, but Facebook is however a great channel for us to speak to parents and donors and partner organizations. So we still use it heavy as an organization, but we've learned that that's not where teens are consuming our content. So we, that's helped out because we can kind of shift what we say. You know, how we say and where we say it based on who we're speaking to or what the messages, and so. Instagram is like our number one for like trying to, for in terms of directly connecting with teens. Twitter has been great for engaging with our organizations, our partner orgs, like whether that's promoting their events or just engaging in their challenges are we, you know, we, we blanket it.

Shelton: So like when I post, when we're promoting something direct, like it goes on every channel. But yeah, we've kind of learned. Where different audience members are and like kind of how to use that to our advantage and communications. 

Austin: Yeah. And I'm sure it's really powerful for you guys to be able to speak to the different groups.

Shelton: Yeah. I mean, obviously you want to speak directly to the teens, but then also have a presence with the parents on Facebook, for example. It's always been interesting, and that's a conversation that I've, so that's why I love that I'm so new to this organization. My, so my executive director has been. In her role now, I believe for a few years.

Shelton: But she's been involved with the organization for like for a long, long time since its early days. And so she's super in tune with what the, you know, the original mission, the original like brand and style guide. And so we. We always find ourselves in a position of wanting to promote something or say a certain thing and then kind of asking, okay, who are we talking to here?

Shelton: Cause we, you know, we never really wanted to stray away from being that teen voice or having, you know, having that kind of teen voice. But this situation that we're in right now, you know, referencing Koba 19 and everything. We've had to kind of drastically shifts our messaging and our voice, just kind of out of necessity because we're not, you know, we're still trying to be there for teens, but there's only so much that we can do right now.

Shelton: So like we're, we're doing, you know, we're, we're encouraging them to post their art online and tag us so we can be posted to our channels because we want to amplify their arts, posted some zoom meetings and just, you know, talk to like our teen writers and our new guard. Just, you know, seeing how they're doing, what they've been up to.

Shelton: We're allowing young people to pitch creative writing or short stories, or basically whatever they're doing. We want to promote it on our website right now. So that's kind of how we're staying involved with young people. But. We also realized we have a lot that we could be doing for our partners right now.

Shelton: There's a lot that our teen parents are probably wondering right now about how does this affect their programming? Or how does this affect if they were an intern here? Like, so we really had to shift our voice to be speaking to a bunch of different crowds. And one thing that it's brought up is that there will be appropriate times for us to change, you know, our voice or our direction or things that we wouldn't have promoted.

Shelton: You know, last year we might be promoting now after this is all over, just cause we've kind of. We've kind of found a rhythm, if you will, on how we can be teen centric, but also be supportive to our partners and just general arts community as well. 

Austin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And that was something I wanted to ask you about was your covert 19 response since now everything is drastically different than it was two months ago. 

Shelton: Yeah, totally. So, I mean, I don't know. I mean, I got to say we're fortunate. One, we're fortunate or as an organization that we're not producers and ticket sellers because if we were producers of art and people who relied on ticket revenue to get by it, we'd be, who knows what we do right now?

Shelton: Who knows if the org would even be open. Right now? Well, we're, you know, we're very fortunate that we exist in a space where we're not reliant on things being open for us to operate, but we are, you know, there are trickle down effects that we're certainly feeling. First of all, all 75 of our organizations are now closed our partner org.

Shelton: So it's like, at first it was kind of, Oh, what do we do? And it kind of took us, you know, several days of off and on virtual staff meetings to kind of. Find out what we thought our role was in this whole thing. In the first thing we thought about was like being there for our partners. We've already heard about organizations that sadly are not going to make it through this.

Shelton: They are going to be closing the doors for good, which is heartbreaking, but we are like, how can we ensure that this happens for as few people as possible? And so. The first thing we did, just to kind of stand in solidarity with our arts partners is we trained six has an annual fee that our arts partners pay us every year.

Shelton: That just is kind of, it's, you know, for the service. It's for the programming, it's for the marketing. I'll get into a little bit deeper on this afterwards, but we decided to waive every partner's fee for an entire year effective immediately once this whole thing started, and that's like a super. We're, it was a decision that was kind of hard for us to make, but we knew we had to make it one because one, we kind of just knew we couldn't expect an organization that doesn't even know if they're going to stay open to have to pay an unnecessary.

Shelton: You know, I want, I don't want to call it unnecessary, but what at the time feels like an unnecessary expense. And that the, the amount that we emitted from our budget while by cutting those fees is about 10% so it's like, it's a pretty big hit for us and we're now taking it upon ourselves to fundraise that money for ourselves as a teen six community solidarity fund.

Shelton: Basically we're calling on our arts community and our donors and our. Just arts patrons in general to help us support these venues that, you know, are at risk of closing down. So that's kind of our, that was like our first action to our partners was just, you know, let them know that we're with them. They don't have to worry about any payments this year and that, you know, we want to amplify our messaging however we can.

Shelton: And so we've pivoted our calendar to featuring completely virtual events. So like, if you want to.  dot org slash calendar right now, you would see that every event that's listed is like a live stream or a virtual screening of a film or a virtual art exhibit or video gallery. Something along those lines where basically we're pivoting our model to amplify what's currently happening.

Shelton: And fortunately, a lot of our partner organizations have digital and virtual programming, so it's pretty, it's been a pretty. Wild experience overall, but I'd feel like we're handling it pretty well. Yeah. Yeah. Especially most of your are August. All of these venues would be typically in person events, so they'll organization.

Yeah, and it was pretty crazy how it, it's, I mean, I'm sure you can, everybody can kind of relate to how quickly things went from, is this a big deal to, this is a massive deal. Like we, it was funny the first day that they. Limited events here. I think they canceled all events over two 50 or postpone or band all events over two 50 and that that affected probably 30%, 40% of our partners. So we first had to react by updating these individual partner pages, pulling their events off the calendar and updating their pages to reflect their closing language. And then it seemed like it was 24 hours later that. The, the band got knocked to 50 people and then it was like, Holy crap, this is like the rest of our partners.

Shelton: And then a couple really small organizations, like some improv places and some open mic cafes and stuff. We're still staying open cause they're like, you know what? We can't get more than 30 people in here anyways. We're going to stay open. And then. Not even a week later, it was closed all businesses, and then now it's full shelter in place.

Shelton: So it's like, it's just been this trickle down of like every week we think we're responding in the way we need to, but then every week it gets worse and we have to pivot again. But now that we kind of know we're all going to be, at least here in Washington, you know, we know that nobody's going anywhere. Until at least may, June, and even then, it's probably not going to be capacity like it was before. It'll probably be slowly opening back up. So yeah, and we started creating content too. Like tomorrow is going to be our first one. We're going to be doing Instagram lives with our executive director.

Shelton: There'll be a series of them, so it'd be like our executive director and a teenager just kind of talking to the teenager and what their experience has been like, how's this affecting them? What do they miss most? Is that things like that. And then we're going to actually. Speak with other leaders from other arts organizations, artists, playwrights, and like do a combination of our staff speaking with these people and teens speaking with these people just as a weekly Instagram live series.

Shelton: And then we're also going to start a video series where we have teens do more structured, sit down interviews with artists. Cause we've, we've never been a producer of content simply because that's not where, that just wasn't the mission. You know what I mean? Like we were, they were very in line with, like we, we're an amplifier and not a producer.

Shelton: We know that's just the role we play. But right now, since there's not a lot to amplify, you know, more than half of our partners don't really have the capabilities to set up these live stream opportunities and stuff like that. And so. We're kind of like, how can we still bring value to the community? How can we still be a positive note on in someone's day?

Shelton: Basically, besides saying that this event's canceled, this event's canceled, and so that's kind of, we figured that was still in line with the mission because it's still emphasis on young person. It's still adding to their experience overall, but it's also providing something for the community to watch as well.

Austin: Yeah. And be able to continue building those relationships is paramount for you guys, it sounds like. 

Shelton: Definitely. And I think really relationship building is really, that's my favorite part of this role. Like that, you know, that's why the position in it, that's why the position is marketing and partnerships is because these, and that's what's cool, is that my position was kind of created upon entry based on my experience and what my past had been like.

Shelton: So the person I took over for their title was just director of communications. Which is more or less the same thing on the, on the marketing side, building the newsletter and then all the, the social media you're pairing partner agreement, stuff like that. It's all the same stuff there, but I'm putting a lot of emphasis on the partners side.

Shelton: Before this all happened, my goal was to set up meetings one by one for the year with our various partners and just sit down with them and learn about who they are and what they're looking to accomplish. In. Try to develop some programming that actually meets their goals because the, the fee, the partner fee that I mentioned was a newer thing in the last few years.

Shelton: It wasn't new this year, but in the last few years, and that's just because the value that we've been able, that we've kind of evolved into being able to bring our partners has just expanded with the staff growing and with our technology capabilities growing. Speaking back on that, one thing that was really cool was.

Shelton: With our past program when we got the website upgrade last year that introduced the digital pass. So moving forward, how, how partners are not, before you just showed your past, you paid five bucks cash, you got to ticket, now you're going to use your digital paths, whether physical or on your phone to actually scan in.

Shelton: So we've purchased devices for all these organizations to have. There'll be just a smartphone with an app that exists at their box office. And when a team comes and says, hi, I want to use my team six pass, they'll literally pull out their past. Scan into the app that we've been provided on the device for the partner.

Shelton: And what that's going to do is create data on these teens that we never had before. So the only data that we really had for our partners before is they were able to tell us. How many teams? Six tickets they sold in a year. Like that's kind of how we, on a monthly basis is how we do it. And then we analyze it at the year.

Shelton: But yeah, before we were just able to see how many TeenTix tickets were sold in an organization, but we couldn't see whether that was one person that bought all 10 tickets or whether that was 10 individual teams that bought one ticket. We couldn't tell where that person was from, what they were interested in, where they live, like anything like that.

Shelton: And so. Now that we have this digital pass that will be rolled out this year when a teen scans in the organization is now going to know all the same information we know about them. They're going to know where they went to school, where they live, what their zip code is, and then it's going to generate a survey that automatically gets sent to that team's email, roughly an hour or two hours after the event ends.

Shelton: That just says, what was your experience like at this organization? You know, where you did you feel. Did you know, were you treated fairly? Was buying the ticket easy? Did you enjoy the event? What feedback would you have for the organization, et cetera. So now we're able to. Actually kind of exists as this marketing entity for these organizations because they're now going to understand not just how frequently young people come to their place, but how they found it, why they chose to engage with it and like would they engage with it again?

Austin: Yeah. That's crazy. Being able to get that sort of data because. That stuff. I mean, it's, it's useful to organizations as well to know that information and to be able to provide, you know, surveys and get data in that way. But then also for you guys, you'll be able to know that certain marketing campaigns pay off.

Shelton: Like, did it make sense. Thousand percent and like, and that's kind of the big thing is like when we, when we introduced the fee, some partners were like, okay, well if we're going to be, if this is turning into an investment, then we want to, you know, how can we measure return on investment? And this was our answer to that was, cool, well, let's craft this entire backend in website that allows us to track all of this.

Shelton: And so now when we, in the future, when we sit down for meetings and ask them what their goals are like. We can point directly to it and show them, well, look, only this many people are coming, or only people from this zip code seem to be attending. Like, are you, are you pushing in these areas? How are you speaking to teens that live outside of the zip code, et cetera.

Shelton: And like, even if that's not. Where their expertise is in building out that programming or that marketing. That's just another role that we'll continue to play in, in, or that I will continue to play in. My role is working with these organizations. I know, how do you better serve these people. 

Austin: And I bet that will also help enable you guys to reach more organizations because now you know your pitch is a lot more powerful now that you can kind of show, like with this information we have this amount of data and we can make some informed choices about what your advertising or like if you partner with us, what it might look like in terms of the number of people that show interest. 

Shelton: Definitely. And it speaks a lot to that. They just, the growth and the success that the organization has had in kind of telling that story because I was fortunate enough to meet the original founder, like back when it was a one, you know, a one person job and. She mentioned how the laughs that she would get when she would walk into an organization that, you know, back in 2004 and say, Hey, we want, you know, I know you normally charge $55 a head to get in here, but I want you to give a teenager a ticket for $5 in like, that was like blast for me.

They were like, why would we. Discount ourselves. You know what I mean? Like the ticket this much because it costs this much and dah, dah, dah, and like it was, as she mentioned, it was quite a hurdle to get, you know, fortunately, like I had mentioned, all of those residents, Seattle center organizations were kind of, they were kind of forced.

Shelton: Into it because it was a Seattle center founded organization. And so they, you know, obviously they were like, Oh cool, we're, all of the organizations that we own or that are on our property are going to be a part of this program. And so that was kind of the pilot. So that was kind of the only ammo that we had going into, or that they had going into other organizations was saying, look, we're doing it for this person, this person, and this person, and it's working.

Shelton: And the way we kind of explain it to people is, we're not asking you. To discount a ticket that would have been sold anyway. We're asking you to sell a $0 million ticket for $5 because the idea is, and what how this kind of started, a lot of organizations have gotten a lot more lax on this, but how it was originally with the original language stated was that the teen six pass was good for a day of show ticket.

Shelton: So the purpose there was that we're not asking people to short sell themselves. We're asking them to fill what otherwise would have been an unused seat for someone that otherwise might not have been able to afford it. So that's kind of like the selling point is like we that that we're asking a team to look on the day of the show and see if there's tickets available.

Shelton: And if there are, then you'd have to sell one for $5. But a lot of organizations have, they just want young people to come, they don't care. And so they'll allow tickets purchased in advance, don't make sure that they save, obtain six tickets so that they're always available. It's not about, luckily it's not about revenue for everybody.

Shelton: For some people, they just want more young people to be there. Right. Yeah. And being able to foster a love for whatever the given venue provides early on. Yeah. It is really effective, definitely. And it's been rewarding cause they do it like there's a lot of, there's a lot of opportunity for like us as employees to in this organization.

Shelton: Like, like we've never had like that I've never had. So like prior to working here, like I had never attended racial equity workshops and team building workshops and just, uh, they, there's a lot of. It's kind of time allotted for the, for us as employees to just invest in our growth as people and our education so that we can better ourselves as people and as you know, the best staff that we can be for the organization.

Austin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Shifting gears a little bit, but in your estimation as the program and event manager, what's the largest obstacle that TeenTix is facing right now. 

Shelton: I think that may, maybe it's that we didn't set ourselves up to be like producers, and so we're kind of having to do that on the fly right now, because since I think it's, there's this slight feeling of we can be doing more and we should be doing more, but not really knowing kind of where we fit in that role.

Shelton: You know what I mean? Like we don't know where to deviate. From the plan. We're just trying to be there as much as we can. So I would say that that, that was kind of the biggest hurdle of this was that because we were only, we were basically an event and arts marketing entity when there was no arts events happening.

Shelton: Like for example, there was a cup before all of these virtual events started popping up. There was a time when our whole calendar just said canceled, you know what I mean? Every event on our calendar was canceled. And so that kind of was like a falling on our face moment of. You know, we stand by being this robust calendar where you can find 20 plus events happening on any given day.

Shelton: And for almost a week, every event on our calendar was canceled. And so it kind of felt like for a moment, even though our mission was the same, that our mission wasn't serving a purpose because if they couldn't, if they, like, if you can't go to these events, what's the plan as having a Mara calendar? So, I don't know.

Shelton: I would say that initially, but I think that what we've done a good job of is just quickly working as a team. To adapt and pivot to this new virtual model. And like I said earlier, we're very fortunate that it's like our downside was also an upside. The fact that we're not, you know, an event production company, that's kind of why we were saved by this.

Shelton: You know what I mean? Cause we weren't depending on this ticket revenue to survive in the first place. So in terms of just our operations, it didn't really halt us. It just kind of. We had to kind of wait for our partners to pivot to be ordered to pivot with them. 

Austin: And the fact that you guys have a smaller staff, I bet, was also in your favor where you guys were a little more mobile than if you had a hundred full time employees.

Shelton: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Fortunately, it's just the four of us. It's, it's very convenient for us to continue our regular time staff meetings. Like we still meet the same time every week that we normally would for a staff meeting. It's just. Virtual. Now, of course, it's super easy to kind of communicate with each other and just stay, you know, stay up to date with what's going on.

Shelton: Unfortunately that hasn't been the case for majority of our partner organizations, honestly. So we're, we're very fortunate in that way. So that, and that's where we're, we're kind of trying to lend our capacity. More or less like we want to do everything that's us, but like also are, for example, one of our organizations that's closed down that's now down to just the director and someone's sending out emails, you know, they don't have the capacity to be active on Instagram and to be updating virtual calendar every day and to be doing these various things.

Shelton: So we're kind of trying to be there where our partners don't currently have the capacity because it's a luxury that we still have all of our staff members. 

Austin: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Well, that's all the questions I've got for you, Shelton, so thanks so much for appearing on the show and sharing the impact you guys are having with TeenTix.

Shelton: Absolutely. Yeah. I guess as a kind of a closing note. I would just say for people, particularly people that aren't from Seattle, just to keep their eyes on us, you don't have to be from here to sign up for a pass. You can live where you want, sign up for passengers, use it while you're here, and then we're also in other cities to expand into other markets as well. So just don't forget about us. 

Austin: If our listeners would like to find out more about TeenTix, where would be the best place to look online? 

Shelton: So right now we have, we have the, you could go to and sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out every Thursday, Friday, or follow us just at TeenTix on any social media platform, Instagram especially.

Austin: Awesome. All right. Thanks so much, Shelton.
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