You Don’t Know Entertaining

There has been a fair bit of evidence that people are not generally aware whether the place they are having their entertainment experience is a non-profit or for-profit business. An experience appeals to them and they participate. All those efforts invested in curating a balanced season of offerings may receive less recognition and appreciation than you think.

According the Colleen Dilenschneider, what the general public perceives to be an entertaining experience doesn’t align with the definition of non-profit curators/programmers either.

Leaders of cultural arts organizations tend to perceive an entertaining experience to be one that is simplified and dumbed down compared with the educational experience they offer. Participants have a much broader definition of what constitutes entertainment.

Surveying perceptions of memorial sites like USS Arizona Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the September 11 Memorial & Museum, Dilenschneider’s company, IMPACTS found that memorial sites,

Considered as a collective, they are generally viewed as entertaining! People find these sites relevant and meaningful – and thus find them entertaining. This is the opposite of what some internal industry leaders believe “entertaining” to mean!

In general, cultural organizations are seen as entertaining entities. That’s great news because entertainment value motivates visitation while education value tends to justify a visit. Moreover – as we’ve discussed – entertainment value is the single biggest contributor to overall visitor satisfaction.

If you recall my posts on the most recent CultureTrack study, one of the most consistent motivators to participation across all disciplines was to have fun. Dilenschneider has presented information before from other sources that reinforces this result as well.

Later in her post, she presents another chart showing

“Memorial sites are perceived as both educational and entertaining, again challenging the notion that “entertainment” is necessarily vapid, empty, or meaningless.”

and makes the following important observations:

1) “Entertainment” means engaging

A synonym of “entertainment” is “engaging.” The opposite of “entertainment” is disengagement. Why would cultural organizations be disappointed to learn that they are not disengaging? I posit it’s because we’ve created and promulgated the baseless cognitive bias within our industry that entertainment and education are opposing forces, and that one comes at the expense of the other. In reality, they must work together to lead a successful cultural organization.


2) “Entertainment” is not the opposite of “education”

As shown above, cultural organizations are generally seen as both educational and entertaining! An idea that one value necessarily comes at the expense of another is generally unfounded. If it were true, these numbers could not both be high at the same time – and yet they are!


Entertainment value and education value are not the same thing, but their relationship much more closely resembles that of partners than of enemies. They may benefit by being considered individually at times, but they do not necessarily function independently.

A great deal to think about in relation to how we frame our thinking about what we are doing.

One thing I misinterpreted was her assertion that “…entertainment value motivates visitation while education value tends to justify a visit.” I read that as something viewed as entertainment impels people to participate while something viewed as educational is seen as an obligation — you have to go to the opera because it is good for you.

But when I watched the accompanying video (below), I realized the perceived educational value aligns directly with the motivations found in the Creating Connection initiative. Desire to see and learn something new and different and wanting a child to learn/see something different are part of the perceived educational value.


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. (

I am currently the 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.


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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Entertaining”

  1. Before I start, I need to make the point that ‘entertainment’ is more nuanced than merely witnessing some spectacle. We have misunderstood ‘entertainment’ as the opposite of ‘education’, but also misunderstood it as necessarily a specific type of thing or activity. As Dilenschneider notes, “The opposite of ‘entertainment’ is disengagement.” To be entertained, therefor, is at its most basic the state of being engaged.

    What that means may not be as clear as it could be. This is an example from my experience as a working artist that bears on the relationship between education and ‘entertainment’ as engagement:

    My goal as an artist is to get folks to like what I do for the reasons that matter to me. This is the point of any attempt to communicate with art. But because I am doing something a bit unusual there are steps my audience must take in order for them to come to the point where they will genuinely like specifically what I’m offering.

    First I must present my work in such a way that they are educated about what I am suggesting to them. They may like what they think I’m doing but unless they know what that is, what they like will be something other than what I intended. They will like whatever they think it is for their own reasons. In other words, what they like and what I want them to like may be entirely different things. And this is why educating the audience matters. If it is required that an artist aims at an objective of quality, a particular message, etc., then it is also important that apples are not being judged as oranges.

    But to educate people they need to be able to see what it is I’m doing. It can be mysterious, even if they think they know. They need to see which details matter in just such a way that they get what I’m suggesting. They need to see the difference between apples and oranges. In order to be educated about what I am offering, the ability to see certain details makes all the difference. So also, in order to see the differences implied one must understand that these things matter whereas others do not, or not in the same way.

    Just as liking depends on education and education on seeing, seeing depends on understanding. You cannot like what you can’t see, and you cannot properly see what you cannot understand. If you don’t understand the difference between apples and oranges you won’t see the difference. Seeing depends on understanding.

    But also, in order to understand something new it has to register for you in some way. Before you can see it you need to understand it, but understanding itself rests on discrimination. That is, it needs to stand out from the chaos of things not understood. We need to have some connection to it that precedes actual understanding. But in order to have this starting point of interest we also need to entertain (consider, engage) such things and not dismiss them. We need to be entertained by them and they by us. Minimally, at least.

    It is easier to be entertained by things we already know or are familiar with, because all the mechanisms of interest, understanding, seeing, liking are wrapped up in how we navigate the world. That is our common interaction with the world. We are guided primarily by what we already know. But in order to learn something new, to be educated, the only way to get there is from a foundation in our most basic connection to the world: That something grabs hold of us, engages us, and we use it to steer by, ask questions about, and in general place it within the context of how we end up living our lives.

    The idea that entertainment is a dirty word dishonors the fact that we only keep connected with our way of life and who we are by the mere possibility that we consider some things as mattering to us. We are not ‘disengaged’ from the world. Not everything we are entertained by or which we ourselves entertain is earth shatteringly important, but everything that does matter to us we have entertained. What doesn’t matter to us does not register, has not shown up on our radar, and that is a failure specifically of entertainment. We have failed to engage.

    The only way to get folks to like something new or different is to make it a part of an education. The only way to become educated about new things is to figure out how to see them properly. The only way to see them properly is to come to an appropriate understanding of them. The only way to understand them is to form an interested in them. The only way to be interested in them is to be struck by them in such a way that they matter, are worth being interested in. The entire chain rests on entertainment, in other words. It rests on not being disengaged.

    This is a crude description. It is also a useful frame for talking about the issues of ‘education’ and ‘entertainment’. It is not definitive but productive. We have labored too long under misapprehensions about ‘entertainment’, so even tentative attempts to clear the ground are beneficial. As usual, the ability of the arts field to misunderstand basic terms threatens to undo much of the progress it otherwise makes……

  2. Actually , I guess in this line of thought, it would be more accurate to say that entertainment is something that engaged us in a positive way since there are plenty of things that engage us negatively.

    Ultimately it goes back to that idea that love and hate are not opposites and there is a mighty thin line between them. So the opposite of love is apathy, or in this case, disinterest/disengagement

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