The key findings summary of the special COVID-19 edition of the Culture Track report has been released and it contains some very telling data.
In the ensuing industry conversation, I can’t help but notice the focus tends to be on certain stats — most of which happen to *not* be the hard stuff.
Yes, it is good to know what people are doing during lockdown and how we can offer programs that fit into those interests. Yes, it is good to know why people engage in cultural offerings in the first place (although this isn’t new data). Yes, it is good to know what would make people feel comfortable attending a cultural event again (spoiler: it’s a vaccine).
However, there are some issues that keep coming around again which we don’t ever seem to address. Why? Because they’re hard.
Usually, when we see data that isn’t positive like declining number of ticket buyers, lack of diversity in our audience, or low attendance at community programs, we tend to go right for the “easy” stuff. Stuff like ticket price, repertoire, advertising channels, etc.
These things are “easy” because they involve things we already know how to do like changing a ticket price, booking an exhibition of African American artists or that production of Florencia en el Amazonas rather than our usual fare, or running some Facebook ads with new interest or demographic targeting.*
What isn’t easy is changing our mindset and, inherently, changing how we do things.
Let’s take a look at some stats from the report that bring to the forefront these issues:
Many respondents who are using online cultural offerings had not physically visited the same kinds of cultural organizations in the past year.
Are we really surprised that removing barriers from engagement and participation result in an increase in consumption? We shouldn’t be.
Producing digital content may be new to some organizations, but the data is clear that it is something worth doing. Not all of this content takes a big budget to produce; it just takes a plan with specific outcomes which will guide you to the best tactics.
Despite widespread participation from arts and culture organizations of all sizes and disciplines, the survey not only confirms but further illustrates the huge racial disparity in cultural audience composition, and the work ahead for the sector.
Increasing audience and artist diversity is something that takes concerted effort and can be accomplished by every single organization, no matter the budget size.
Review the demographic data of the population in your area and identify ways you can make your audience more accurately reflect the community you serve.
It won’t happen overnight, but we must take even small steps to move forward.
After weeks of quarantine, respondents are eager to reconnect with loved ones and dine out, but aren’t as excited to resume most cultural experiences.
I’ve seen a stat like this in almost every data set that has been released since everything was shut down and it is something that we need to come to terms with and plan for.
In our seeming rush to reopen (for good reason), have we truly considered the fact that patrons won’t come pouring through our doors? Gather your team together and create plans for each possible scenario. And I don’t mean just budget plans, I’m talking about plans for programming as well.
Addressing the difficult things is what will move our industry forward and until we mindfully do that, we will continue to circle back around to the same place, pandemic or not.
In the words of Leslie Knope:
Not to say that [arts admin] isn’t sexy because it definitely is, but that’s not why we do it. We do it because we get the chance to work hard at work worth doing…
Let’s get to work.
*I want to make it clear that all of these things may be part of your organization’s approach to these more difficult issues. However, they cannot be looked at as something that can magically change things alone.