Storming the Barriers

Since I was talking about the PARC survey yesterday, I thought I would continue today with a discussion of barriers to attendance and give a few thoughts about dealing with these problems.

The top three cited barriers to attendance were: Hard to Make Time to Go Out, Preference to Spend Time in Other Ways, and Cost of Tickets. However, there were some interesting lessons from nearly all the barriers.

In regard to Cost of Tickets, the survey found (bolding is mine):

We draw three conclusions about cost of tickets. First, as might be expected, the cost barrier is associated with household income level. In short, households with lower levels of income are more likely to cite cost of tickets as a barrier to greater attendance. This relationship is strongest in Sarasota. The relationship is weak in Boston, where a quarter of respondents from the wealthiest households still say that cost is an inhibitor for them.

Second, the tendency to claim cost of tickets as a barrier to performing arts attendance is substantially unrelated to education level, age, or whether there are children in the home…Oddly, the positive sign indicates that respondents with more education (who are also those respondents who tend to have higher incomes) are slightly more likely to cite ticket prices as a barrier than their less educated counterparts. While the low level of Somer’s d implies a weak relationship here, we nonetheless suspect a complicated
association among income, education, and the attitude toward cost of tickets in explaining attendance at performing arts events.

Third, unlike most other barriers, cost of tickets is cited by a greater percentage of attenders than nonattenders or frequent attenders. This generalization is not true in Sarasota, where frequent attenders are most likely to cite cost as a barrier, but it is a clear finding in the other four communities.

I found it very interesting to learn that people who attend often and have higher levels of income and education are more likely to cite cost. It almost makes me think that people who enjoy attending performances might come more often if the price was lowered except for the barrier of hard to make time to go out.

The study found that hard to make time to go out was “Overall, attenders and frequent attenders are almost as likely as nonattenders to say that hard to make time to go out is a substantial barrier. The main factor that makes this a big barrier for more people is the presence or absence of children in the home. Whether the children are younger or older, respondents in households with children are much more likely to say that time keeps them from the performing arts.”

These results might suggest that a daycare (or nightcare) center might remove this as a barrier for some people. The Utah Shakespearean Festival ran one in conjunction with their performances when I worked there. Satisfying older children might be more difficult. While programming can certainly be aimed at entire families, adults occasionally want to be engaged by more mature subject matter.

In a related question, family obligations was cited as a big barrier to attendance by those with children and hardly at all for those without. The ages of those indicating it as a big problem fell between 25-44 which may partially explain why mean audience age tends to be around 50. That is the time when the nest empties and people can indulge their inclination to attend.

Parking, as one might imagine was cited as a bigger deterrent in cities where parking was a problem. Unsafe and Unfamiliar location was cited as a big impediment less than 10% of the time. However, the researchers noted that the least educated, least wealthy and oldest respondents were more likely to rate this as a substantial factor. “Washington, D.C., is notable because more than twice as many nonattenders cite this factor as a barrier than attenders. This suggests that the issue is substantial enough to keep some people away who otherwise might be inclined to attend performing arts events.”

Some of the results here were very interesting to me. It was no surprise that older attendees might be turned off by unfamiliar or unsafe locations. However, the results also suggest that people with the most education and most to lose if they were mugged or had their car stolen were less aware of the danger than those with less material wealth, but apparently more practical education in the matter.

The response of Insufficient Publicity or Information About an Event was very interesting. The survey found that the older the respondent, the less likely they were to cite lack of information as a barrier. This suggests to me that dissemination of information over the internet, email, cellphones, pagers, etc may be important to attracting younger audiences. Younger demographics don’t get their information from print media as much as their elders do. Certainly, they aren’t listening to the same radio stations as the long time patrons are.

While advertising electronically and moving ads to the hip stations won’t automatically bring youthful hordes to the seats, these channels can support a campaign that communicates the value of attendance to this demographic.

One of the other big response categories was related to enjoying other things. The survey makes a sort of “no duh!” statement that “a big reason why some people do not attend the performing arts is that they prefer to do other things.” It is one of those questions that has to be asked if you are going to administer a valid survey, but which doesn’t yield earth shattering answers.

The response that there was “No One to Attend With” wasn’t a major factor overall in not attending. It was a big problem for those with lower education and those who did not attend. Lack of Appeal and Feeling Uncomfortable and Out of Place as barriers were also tied to education level and non-attendance, though the relationship to education level was slightly weaker. This information made me think that an offshoot of the docent program Drew McManus suggested might be helpful for this demographic. In addition to providing a relaxed format of education, assembling a group who are all nervous about attendance could be enabling as it eased their anxiety and provided a source of companionship for the future.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


2 thoughts on “Storming the Barriers”

  1. As a software developer with our own ticketing software, ThunderTix, I find your comments interesting with respect to pricing. With several clients citing pricing concerns, through their testimony I am led to believe that the fee structure of tickets dampens sales even more. No one wants to cough up $4-12 bucks a ticket for “convenience” and other fees. Unfortunately, most ticket companies operate in this fashion. We hope to bring those venues over to our side.

    Great posts, keep writing!

    Dawn Green


Leave a Comment