Masks Still Matter A lot

Last week Colleen Dilenschneider released recent findings compiled by her colleagues at IMPACTS Experience about audience willingness to return to cultural organizations. By and large, mask wearing still matters a great deal to potential audiences.

She offers the caveat that this data was collected during first quarter of 2021 so attitudes may shift as vaccination rates increase and the weather trends warmer. However, she points out that mask requirements became the top concern in their surveys last July and the number of people identifying that as a concern only increased. In this most recent survey, it averaged 7.9 out of 10 nationally for interactions with any public serving entity, not just cultural organizations. (If you haven’t seen her data before, it is organized regionally in terms of similarity of attitudes which doesn’t always align with geographic proximity.)

Pay particular attention to the last paragraph below:

Most potential visitors lean toward masks being “absolutely essential,” despite variance by region. Nationally (and including states not shown here), those who plan to attend visitor-serving entities say that mandatory masks are essential at a value of 7.9 on a 10.0 scale. On the whole, people who plan to visit any cultural organization in the next three months consider face coverings as essential to their safety.


Not requiring masks makes a meaningful number of people in every region uncomfortable. And here’s the kicker: Research suggests that not requiring masks will have a much greater negative impact on attendance than requiring them for the vast majority of organizations.


Not only that, the top issue contributing to onsite dissatisfaction for cultural organizations is still staff members neglecting to enforce mask mandates and social distancing rules. The safety of visitors is now identified as a primary role for staff members according to guests. It’s in our best interests to take that expectation seriously.

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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