Milwaukee Business Journal: UPAF taps capital fund to create mobile app for performing arts

January 19, 2024

The United Performing Arts Fund, the nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and raising operating funds for Milwaukee's arts community, will introduce a new mobile application designed to make the arts more accessible.

UPAF CEO Patrick Rath said the organization's focus starts with fundraising. In 2024, UPAF wants to get significantly more donors.

In recent years, UPAF has averaged about 13,000 donors, which Rath said is lower than pre-pandemic levels. More donors translates to more funding. In 2019, UPAF raised $11.89 million in its annual campaign.

A way to attract new donors is new incentives. UPAF created an application called Performance Plus that will debut with a March community campaign launch.

"The Performance Plus experience is really meant to help you better navigate and engage with all the arts activities that are happening in the community," Rath said.

UPAF worked with Milwaukee-based engagement marketing agency Zizzo Group to develop the app.

"Performance Plus isn't just another loyalty program, it's a strategic investment in Milwaukee's thriving arts community," Zizzo Group founder and CEO Anne Zizzo said in an emailed statement. "The UPAF Performance Plus app isn't just about access. It's about measurable impact, igniting cultural engagement and fostering deeper connections across our community."

The application will allow users to select an arts experience happening in the community during any given week. It will include categories for family activities, types of arts entertainment and specific neighborhoods in southeastern Wisconsin.

Rath said the application will also improve the ticket buying experience, with users able to move directly from the app to an arts organization's website to purchase online. UPAF also made its own donor-based discounts, such as free or reduced-price tickets, available to use on the application rather than going to a box office.

Performance Plus also features a connection to UPAF's restaurant partners. Rath said restaurants such as Bartolotta properties will promote the idea of dinner and a show by offering special discounts, corresponding with UPAF-promoted performances.

"Part of UPAF’s mission is not only to raise the funds but to promote the arts, so we’re doing a lot to elevate those arts experiences and really just want people to enjoy what is so special in our community," Rath said.

Rath expects the application will have further features in the future. He expects enhancements will be user-driven once the mobile application is launched.

"The whole point is to make your enjoyment of the arts even easier and have one place or location where you can go and find what you want to do," he said.

UPAF invested money from its capital fund into Performance Plus. Rath said the purpose of the fund is to support the needs of the arts community. He did not disclose the investment amount.

UPAF will start its 2024 community campaign March 13. The organization is reimagining the campaign with a theme of "Rally for the Arts." Instead of a formal event with speeches, Rath said UPAF will invite the community to participate in the arts with a full day of experiences centered on the theme of dance.

In its 2023 community campaign, UPAF raised $10.6 million to support member groups and other arts organizations throughout southeastern Wisconsin. UPAF was shy of its $10.8 million campaign goal last year.

UPAF, founded in 1967, has 14 member groups: First Stage, Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Ballet, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Skylight Music Theatre, Bel Canto Chorus, Black Arts MKE, Danceworks, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, Next Act Theatre, Present Music and Renaissance Theaterworks.