Emotionally Intelligent Ticket Purchasing Experience

Being customer focused rather than internally focused is the name of the game these days. Drew McManus provided a great example of customer focused design in an interview on Dave Wakeman’s Business of Fun Podcast. Drew uses the example of his design process for UpStageCRM ticketing platform, (~6:30 mark) noting that they did interviews to discover what customers wanted their ticket buying experience to be like versus asking ticketing/venue admins what they wanted out of the ticketing platform.

Drew discusses how they created three user groups – experienced ticket buyers who are comfortable navigating myriad ticketing interfaces; infrequent ticket buyers who may go a year or two between online purchases; and complete newbies. They worked to make sure each group had at least one member of every age group and as much diversity in other demographic factors as possible. The challenge in designing a user experience (UX) for each of these group is that they each wanted something different. Experienced buyers want to be dropped into the ticket buying experience with as few clicks as possible, but less experienced people have questions they want answered.

Drew said that what they ended up doing was creating a narrative path particularly focused on newbie ticket buyers that would allow users to filter their experience based on their most pressing questions. For example, after you enter how many tickets you want, you are asked what is most important to you with choices related to things like price, location (close, aisle, sightlines, acoustics, etc). Among newbies, the conversion rate to purchase more than doubled.

Experienced core buyers on the other hand, Drew said, would ream them out about how unnecessary all those choice screens were. At least point, I should probably disclose I was an uncompensated guinea pig for Drew’s UX design. (Though some would say Drew’s appreciation and esteem is compensation enough.) While I didn’t ream him out, I did talk about how burdensome that flow would be to me. We had a great conversation about why his team was looking to include that path for inexperienced buyers. I am always interested to learn more and think about these issues.

For those core ticket buyers, they have an ever present “Back to Seat Map” button next to the narrative navigation menu so that people can immediately leave that experience to make their purchase.

Drew notes the importance of facilitating the purchase experience for the less experienced buyer lay in the fact they comprise the largest portion of your audience. You may see the core buyers frequently at performances, but they are generally only filling a small portion of your seats at performances. Most everyone else is going to be a less frequent visitor.

Drew and Dave talk about other issues, but focusing on making newer/infrequent purchasers feel confident in their decision to attend is at the core.

Sharing Some Info About Getting Public Art Commissions

Hyperallergic had an article about how artists can get a public/private art commission. Paddy Johnson responds saying “…there are so many ways to get commissions, yet so few shared resources about how to secure them, that many artists never venture into the field.”

So I will start by noting that CaFE (Call for Entry), a service hosted by the Western Arts Federation for what seems like forever is one place to find information on applying for public art projects.

As I mentioned a couple months ago, I am working in a city with a large number of public art pieces so I recently was recruited to be on a panel reviewing project proposals. One of the things in Johnson’s article that rang true for me is that because public art projects are often sponsored by governmental entities like cities, the juries often include ordinary citizens so the way you discuss your project has to be pitched to them rather than visual art insiders.

“I tell artists that [writing] ‘Imagine if you will’ does not work with panelists,” she [Rebecca Rothman, public art manager, Tempe, Arizona] told Hyperallergic. Stakeholders involved in the decision-making process may be dentists or school principals who aren’t visually trained. You have to show them exactly what they will see.

The biggest issue, though, might be the shift from creating work meant to be seen inside controlled spaces such as museums, and a public space where the audience will be much more diverse and doesn’t necessarily choose to view the work. Your job is to sell what you’re going to do to that audience. “Many artists confuse a public art application with applying for a grant,” Rothman said. “It’s a switch of mindset. You’re applying for a job.”

In my experience on the panel, I didn’t really find the language used to describe the proposals difficult to understand. But then, I am something of an insider and CaFE provides a fair amount of space for work samples. I did, however, feel the tone of some of the narrative was similar to a grant proposal. That wasn’t an impediment for me, but Rothman’s comment about public art proposals not being grants immediately resonated with my experience.

Artist Housing Can Be A Point Of Compromise…And That Isn’t Always A Good Thing

Back in February, Bloomberg had a story about a housing project proposed in an old police station in Silver Springs, MD where the desire for affordable housing and artist housing was bridged by Minneapolis developer Artspace. If you aren’t familiar with the organization, they work on/consult on artist housing projects across the country and currently have about 60 buildings running under their program. Not every project is residential. In some cases, they are performance and assembly spaces.

This includes the city in which I am currently living in CO. There is one completed building and another in the process of being renovated. I suspected I might exceed their income parameters, but I did inquire about an apartment before moving here and learned they had a five year waiting list.

In the case of Silver Spring, MD, as Bloomberg reports,

Completed in 2020, Artspace Silver Spring is a mixed-used artist campus comprising a four-story apartment complex with a total of 68 affordable units and 11 for-sale townhomes wrapped around a central courtyard. Each apartment unit is restricted to applicants earning less than 60% of the area median income, with preference given to artists.

The article mentions that construction of affordable housing which provides priority to artists is often a compromise position around which competing interests in a community can find agreement. However, in some cases studies have found that the screening process associated with artist housing projects can result in the residents being much less diverse than other affordable housing projects.

Artist housing, too, can be a form of compromise over subsidized housing: A 2016 study from the University of Minnesota found that several such developments had far fewer non-white tenants than than other kinds of low-income housing in the Twin Cities. In its application process, Artspace emphasizes a commitment to attracting “individuals and families from diverse artistic and cultural backgrounds” — which shouldn’t be difficult, given Silver Spring’s ethnic diversity.

The 2016 study discusses some issues with Artspace’s screening processes which look very open on paper, but may perpetuate the selection of people who are like those on the committee. I was actually struck by the similarities between the descriptions of the resident selection committees and orchestra musician interview committees. While there is discussion of loopholes which entities like Artspace have been able to take advantage of, (teacher housing projects are similarly mentioned), there is also an acknowledgement that affordable housing projects are far more palatable to communities when it is defined for artists and teachers.

Snapshot Of 2021 Arts Gives Hints About How We Got To Today

Last week, Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was on the NEA’s  Quick Study podcast (transcript) talking about the state of the arts economy for 2021 based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  While we may all wish to push 2021 out of our memory, there was some interesting data that emerged after the first year plus of Covid, including some hints of decisions and trends here in 2023.

For instance:

Despite all the setbacks for the sector in the past few years, the arts value added in 2021 expanded to a record high of one trillion dollars, over one trillion actually, representing 4.4 percent of GDP, and this growth rate more than doubles that of the US economy.  The economy as a whole grew by 5.9 percent versus 13.7 percent for arts and cultural industries.

The fine print to that is that a significant part of this growth was in category of web streaming and web publishing of arts content which moved to the top position among arts industries by size. Most of this activity was in the commercial rather than non-profit sector. Similarly, most of the categories that either regained or exceeded where they were in 2019 were in the commercial realm including “movies, broadcasting, creative advertising, and arts retail,…” Government run entities like schools, arts and cultural agencies, museums, libraries, cultural exhibits and parks also held relatively steady compared to their 2019 numbers.

Iyengar said the data showed other areas doing better than 2020, but not reaching the levels they were at in 2019.

At the top of that list I’d place a category called independent artists, writers, and performers. So these are establishments led by artists that have at least one employee on payroll. This industry gained from 2020, but at 33.5 billion is still under the 41 billion it contributed to GDP in 2019. Performing arts organizations also have not quite caught up with 2019 levels, though they’re nearly there, as is the case with fine arts schools, and custom architectural services such as woodwork and metal. Then there are a couple of industries that have been in persistent decline since 2020– arts related construction, and grant making services in the arts.

I didn’t know quite what to make of that last bit. Iyengar says these declines are based on economic activity. Given the amount of time it can take to get construction projects set into motion, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that had not regained momentum after a pause. I am more concerned to think about what it means that grant making in the arts slowed in 2021. My read on that is that granting organizations were pulling back their giving in 2021. Though maybe with arts organizations closing, there were fewer recipients to whom to give?

An interesting observation Iyengar makes later is that while economic activity by self-employed workers is recognized as contributing to the Gross Domestic Product, the data does not distinguish the workers by industry. Iyengar says he suspects a lot of the growth in activity among arts industries is the result of cutting staff and using independent contractors.

“So what that means is I suspect that we’re seeing turbocharged growth for some arts industries even while they’ve lost workers since 2019, and that’s because they’re reverting to contractors such as self-employed artists and other workers who are not counted in the total employment figures here. So that might be why the total employment numbers are lower but we see economic growth still continuing.”