A Big Change: Or Is It?

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For as long I’ve been at Town Hall Seattle — almost 17 people years (or 119 dog years, but who’s counting?) — our organization has been defined by 1) a broad and curious program, brimming with ideas collectively-sourced from across our community and beyond; and 2) the belief that as many as possible should be able to enjoy it. We’ve called this second part a commitment to access. The meaning of “access” has evolved over the years, but we’ve tended to use it in a somewhat limited way: as a commitment to lower financial barriers to producing and attending things here.

We’ve taken a lot of pride in the structural inclusivity of our model, always insisting on the result of a more genuinely welcoming community for all. Town Hall will fulfill its true potential when people who have long felt at home here continue to feel a sense of belonging, while we work to be more deeply meaningful and relevant to even more people across this community. That said, as we work to embrace a richer understanding of accessibility, we want to be clear: our commitment to affordability for all remains critical to the heart of Town Hall.

This season, we’re rolling out a new “Sliding Scale” approach to ticket prices for Town Hall-produced lectures. What does that mean for us? People will always be able to choose a $5 ticket for these programs (and tickets will remain free for youth 22 and Under). But the Sliding Scale pricing option is an approach founded on lots of existing data. Over time, we’ve seen that many patrons choose to make an extra contribution to Town Hall when they purchase tickets, and now we’re giving the people the option to pay what they’re comfortable with for Town Hall programming. No matter where you place the sliding scale ticket price, your ticket purchase helps support our programming and our operations.

Town Hall was founded in 1999 and we’re moving into a new era, finally installed in our newly-renovated building and full of the optimism and possibility of new leadership, all while serving a society in flux. As we begin to imagine the next Town Hall, we need to ensure it can thrive for another 23 years and beyond. In a time of deep vulnerability for cultural presenters like us — financial uncertainty and shifting audience behavior — our goal is to protect our mission-driven commitment to broad community access while securing modest extra revenue that will support our operations and create a solid foundation for the Town Hall to come.

In the end, we hope the new pricing approach is simply an invitation to pay what is comfortable for you. I know you know this, but $5 tickets have never reflected the value of our programs (priceless!) or the true cost of operating Town Hall (pricey-but-worth-it!) We’ve always said that membership here is an act of generosity toward the community at large, assuring affordability for all — and that’s still true. But for some, it’s simply easier to add an extra contribution into the value of their ticket when they can. We believe that in asking those who are inclined to consider paying more, we will create an even deeper sense of belonging and pride within Town Hall’s extraordinary community of supporters.

I can write at this kind of length, with this kind of candor, and all my, let’s call it eccentric punctuation because the Town Hall community is thoughtful and generous. You’re in it for what it means to you, but you’re ALSO in it for each other and for what it means to the city. We are sincerely grateful to all of you, for making Town Hall a uniquely compassionate and collegial place, defined by a thoughtful, caring, and honest community. You can prove it by telling us honestly what you feel about this pricing approach (or anything else) at membership@townhallseattle.org.

With gratitude and affection,

Wier

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