Choose Wisely

I have had a little bit of survey fatigue so I haven’t been keeping up with Colleen Dilenschneider’s ongoing updates on audiences willingness to return to cultural organizations. As a result, I didn’t catch her post last week on the growing importance people are placing on mandatory face masks until recently.

What I felt was a more important reading of her post is that the conditions under which people will feel confident about returning to cultural organizations is increasingly more within the control of the organizations themselves.  In particular I base this on the fact that availability of a vaccine has dropped from the most important factor in April to the fifth most important factor. Face masks didn’t appear as a response on their surveys until about six weeks later in May. It started in the top three and as of last week, was the top factor. (my emphasis)

Or perhaps people are simply accepting that returning to normal activities might mean learning how to safely live alongside the virus for a time. The creation, approval, and distribution of a vaccine resulting in herd immunity may be many more months, or a year or longer away. This reality may be why masks now top the chart compared to the availability of a vaccine.

There has also been a dramatic decline in the percentage of people reporting that the government lifting restrictions means that conditions are safe to return to pre-pandemic behaviors…Now it’s seventh… and may still be decreasing.

As of this month, your organization’s own decision to be open is a bigger factor contributing to feeling safe than the government lifting restrictions. This is a big deal, but it’s not surprising. Cultural organizations are trusted entities at the same time that trust in the federal government is low. Many organizations closed before they were mandated to do so in an effort to flatten the curve. A notable 34% of likely visitors trust that you’ve duly considered safety and accordingly revised operations when making your decision to reopen.

If nothing else, these results emphasize the importance of regularly communicating with your community and generating a well-considered plan for an audience experience.

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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