Available insight into cultural audiences and Covid-19

With Auckland currently going in and out of lockdowns and inspired by a blog post by Christina Lister Comms in the UK (thank you Christina) I thought it might be helpful to list the research that’s available about audiences and Covid.

Thank you to all the organisations that are so generously making their data available for free. 

Most relevant (not just in a New Zealand context) I found: 
  • Culture Segments and Covid Audience Mindsets: Useful for those working with Culture Segments and Audience Atlas, MHM have looked into how the segments engaged during lockdowns and their attitudes to re-engaging after openings. Attitudes to re-engaging seem to be roughly in line with the segments’ general attitude to taking risk with culture.
    If you are new to Culture Segments, check them out here.  
  • Secondary reopening trends for visitor attractions: In a live video on 24 Feb 2021, Dexibit shared trends in 2021 for visitor attractions who are reopening: the latest on visitation recovery, visitor behaviour like attrition and spend and what to expect for the rest of the year.
    Dexibit also offer the Recovery Index, a free dashboard that allows you to compare your visitation to the equivalent time last year and rate of recovery and put it into context globally and locally. 
  • COVID-19 Audience Outlook Monitor Australia: This is a three-phase study by Patternmakers in partnership with international research partner WolfBrown. It tracks how audiences feel about returning to events in the context of the pandemic and was conducted in May, July and September 2020, with three more phases planned for 2021. It includes data about audience attitudes and behaviours, and how they are changing over time with indicators like attendance, ticket buying and spending, and measures things like comfort at different types of venues and confidence in different safety measures. It includes an interesting fact sheet on disability.
Interesting data from other parts of the world – UK: 
  • Culture Restart is a national tracker of cultural audiences and visitors during Covid-19 by the Insights Alliance, a collaboration by Indigo Ltd, Baker Richards and One Further. With several surveys since October 2020, it supports cultural organisations in planning for reopening, including the appeal of digital content and willingness to pay for it, both before and after re-opening.
  • Indigo’s recent After the Interval and Act 2 surveys asked UK audience members about their attitudes to missing live events during Covid-19, how they were engaging with culture during lockdown and when they anticipated returning to live events in the future. 
  • The Family Arts Campaign and Indigo have worked together to look specifically at family audiences. There are a few key areas in which families differ significantly, these are price sensitivity, social distancing, digital content, outdoors and Christmas.
  • Indigo also released a special report on disabled audiences. The headline finding is that “77% of disabled audiences consider themselves to be ‘vulnerable to Coronavirus’ whilst only 28% of non-disabled audiences do”. 
Data from the US:
  • LaPlaca Cohen shares  Culture + Community in a Time of Crisis: A Special Edition of Culture Track, a national research and strategy initiative for US cultural organisations with Key Findings documents, raw data tables and an interactive tool.
  • And Colleen Dilenschneider shares data from Impact’s research with US visitor attractions in a Covid-19 section on her Know Your Own Bone blog
  • Lastly, you might want to conduct your own research. But what if there is no budget to outsource research? Well, with some careful planning it can also be done in-house. MHM helpfully shared their 5 tips to get the most from in-house evaluation
  1. Starting thinking about evaluation early
  2. Start by asking — what are you trying to achieve?
  3. Take an audience-focused approach
  4. Mix your methods to cover a range of outcomes
  5. Push for objectivity – challenge your assumptions

Have you come across other useful data? I’d love to expand the list and share what you found useful. Please get in touch.

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Entertainer, interpreter or activist – what role for arts in the pandemic?

Art is distracting us and keeping us entertained during the pandemic. This effect is much discussed and so is the increased digital offer of arts organisations to enable it. But is there a role beyond that for the arts? “Perhaps the most interesting feature of this digital transformation”, suggests this article, “is the growing role of institutions as documenters, commentators and interpreters of current events.”

Or should the role of arts organisations go further than that – should they be more activist in supporting the community? Alan Brown challenges organisations in the US not to be bystanders in the public health challenge with a passionate call to action for arts in the Covid-19 crisis.

Some organisations are already offering very practical support like English National Opera with its Breathe programme for people recovering from Covid-19.

Image by Sumanley xulx on Pixabay

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Two sides of the same coin

Talking with a client recently about how audience insight is discussed, we spoke about how to create a safe space where it is okay to talk not just about successes, but also share failures and learn from them.

I came across this interesting initiative in the UK, by the authors of the article above, who want to “instigate more honest and open conversations about failure.” The FailSpace Project wants to “encourage those working in the cultural sector to consider success and failure as two sides of the same coin”.

And as to failure – beyond just talking about it, this author shows that you can even make a book out of failure: Tinderbox.

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Why the feel good narrative must end

Diversity in arts participation is often praised, but time and again the overall conclusion (at least as UK data shows) seems to be that the diversity of people engaging in the arts has only changed little over the years despite the wealth of projects and policies to increase cultural participation.

Is there a tendency to overstate impacts through uncritical narratives of success? The authors of this article think so and that this risks undermining the credibility of state subsidies for art and culture. We should not only celebrate the successes but also look at what doesn’t work and learn from it – why the feel good narrative must end (ArtsProfessional).

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Take art home from the Met

…if only for 15 minutes.

You can enjoy a bit of art entertainment on your mobile with The Met Unframed, an interactive, gamified, mobile-only virtual experience of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. And if you solve some puzzles, you might even be able to take the art home for 15 minutes.

A fun VR experience, reviewed here by The Art Newspaper’s XR Panel.

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The forgotten dimension of diversity

The pandemic is bringing inequalities in society to light, especially economic inequalities. In all the discussion and efforts to increase diversity, the focus is often on gender and ethnic diversity, social class is considered much less. An increasing issue in many societies around the world, social inequality will hold them back, because it matters for the well-being not just of individuals, but of organisations and society as a whole.

Social equality shouldn’t be the forgotten dimension of diversity.

Image: Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash

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What role do audiences play in virtual culture?

Virtual culture is not just changing the engagement with culture, it is also changing the role of audience members and their experience around the art.

The coronavirus forced us to watch in our homes rather than with strangers and some of the immediacy of live performance went missing. “It’s easy to forget that, in the theatre, each ticket buyer plays a role. The quality of our attention—silent or ecstatic, galled or bored … makes each in-person performance unrepeatable.” Some theatre productions try to bring some interaction into the digital – between actors and spectators, and among spectators. Awkward at first, it offers a way to avoid social estrangement and gives back an experience of interaction.

Image: Kris Amon on Unsplash

And it’s not only the performance itself, but the whole experience, including the important social side of it. “Perhaps there is enjoyment in rituals of getting ready, going for a meal or drink before or after, chance meetings with friends, or minute details, such as the smell of a favourite venue or even the irritating rustling of another performance goer’s snacks on the next row. Experience of performances involves all of these things and more; a ‘total’ experience (Gesamtkunstwerk) with forms of artistic performance as a focus point.” A nightclub found an innovative solution when it went online. In addition to its 3D interactive dancefloor, it included a virtual queue, where participants would wait to be let in; a bar where, for the price of a drink, participants could donate to charities; toilets, represented as a number of chatrooms hidden behind cubicle doors. It offered clubbers casual interaction and the club experience that exists around the dancefloor. Something to inspire traditional venues?

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Is culture going smaller scale?

New, smaller scale formats seem to be emerging that are easier to produce and might also fit better in our changed and busy lives. Here are some examples I have come across:

Covid has forced a pianist to play at different times and without a break. And he has loved it so much, he doesn’t want to go back.

Under Covid restrictions film director Pedro Almodovar produced a 30 minute film with actress Tilda Swinton. While smaller-scale it seems, however, he spared no expense.

The visual arts are experimenting with smaller pop-up locations and partnerships with outside organisations. As a case in point, Auckland Art Gallery just opened a satellite exhibition – in addition to its current blockbuster though, not instead.

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Where next for museums? Symposium takeaways

Reframing Museums was a virtual symposium organised by Louvre Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi in November. Museum experts from five continents, including the directors of Musée du Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hermitage Museum, the Museum of Black Civilisations in Dakar, Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi and others, discussed the post-pandemic future for museums.

The Art Newspaper summarised its 4 takeaways, which are worth reading through:

  • Exhibitions are not dead, but they will be different.
  • Collections will be reinterpreted with multiple narratives and shared more locally.
  • Museums need new business models to be less dependent on visitor numbers.
  • Equitable and inclusive institutions must empower their audiences to form their own opinions and connections.

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A Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement

For the Museum Association in the UK, the combination of the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis “makes it imperative that we make a transformational change to the role of museums in society. This is a time that requires radical social innovation.” This has led them to publish a Manifesto for Museum Learning and Engagement. Built on two years of research and consultation with museums, it wants to provide a framework for museums to reflect on their purpose and develop their practice.

Image: Museum Association

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Pitfalls when reporting visit numbers

Colleen Dilenschneider, in a recent blog post, reminds of a few pitfalls when reporting visitation numbers, which are good to keep in mind:

  • Overlooking population growth in attendance trends
  • Counting door swings as if they are all different people
  • Omitting the addition of new organisations or programmes to totals
  • Adding together different survey methodologies
Image: William Iven on Unsplash

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What outcomes for culture on referral programmes?

Culture on referral (or art on prescription) programmes have been gaining increased popularity in the cultural and health sector as a way of addressing health and wellbeing needs.

The Centre for Cultural Value in the UK has done an assessment of published literature on culture on referral to understand what evidence there is for the value of such programmes.

They conclude that “Overall, while there is promising evidence that there is a positive role for culture on referral programmes in improving wellbeing outcomes, there is a need to understand the specific value of culture on referral programmes compared to other group-based activities. There is also a need to understand the role of specific cultural on referral programmes, such as dance or visual participatory arts, and which of these programmes is most appropriate for differing health and wellbeing needs.”

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Are museums good for your mental health?

Some might say it depends whether you are a visitor or staff ;)… On a more serious note, “Mental wellness has become one of the most pressing issues of our time,” and we know that the benefits of museums go far beyond having an enjoyable day out. They provide knowledge, inspiration, and social benefits. Do they also improve mental health? This article cites some examples of museums actively working to improve mental health within local communities with good results.
And here is another example, V&A Dundee in Scotland working with visitors with dementia.

Image: Ian Dooley on Unsplash

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5 opportunities for 2021

Reflecting on the rollercoaster year of 2020, I thought about the trends and developments I observed in recent months and what the opportunities and challenges might be to ‘build back better’ in relation to audiences.

Here are my top 5:

  • Thinking hyper local: The limitations of travel brought the importance of local audiences to the fore and ‘buying local’ has become popular. How can we really value the local audience and build and deepen these relationships?
  • Designing for inclusion: In 2020 we heard heightened calls for equity, supporting underserved communities, racial justice and indigenising museums. How can we accelerate the move from talk to action in these areas and be really clear who our organisations are for?
  • Art and wellbeing: Health and wellbeing have been much discussed and art has made many contributions to help us process difficult events, learn, teach and entertain us. How can we continue to make significant contributions to people’s wellbeing? And how can we capture and communicate the outcomes so art gets considered in similar terms to health and education?
  • Phygital: The world has embraced (and is slightly tiring of) digital. How can we be more choiceful with digital content? What are ways to make it sustainable in monetary terms? And how do we maintain meaningful physical encounters not just with art but with and between audiences?
  • Human-centred and agile: Traditional audience development approaches have not necessarily delivered the diversity in audiences we wish for. How can human-centred design be a better, more practical and more agile alternative to developing audiences?

Do any of these resonate? What are your observations, questions, expectations for the year ahead?

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Embrace your competition: Brooklyn Museum and Netflix

With an ever increasing offer of things to do in our leisure time, and now even more so directly from our sofas, the real competition is no longer other arts organisations.

Brooklyn Museum has embraced this thought with a collaboration with Netflix. “The Queen and the Crown” is a 3D immersive virtual exhibition of costumes featured in two Netflix series (The Queen’s Gambit and season four of The Crown) on a digital exhibition floor, aiming to make the museum more relevant to digital-native audiences.

Image: Brooklyn Museum

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