Okay, to start 2024 off with something to ponder for the whole year, I want to direct you to a piece I wrote on ArtsHacker a couple weeks ago about how your definition of entertaining as an arts professional may not match your audience and community’s definition.
All credit to Colleen Dilenschneider and her colleagues at IMPACTS Experience whose research showed (subscription required) that the most entertaining exhibit based entities in the world are Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial followed by the Gettysburg National Military Park and then The Louvre.
You may be thinking, “yeah this doesn’t surprise me, I have seen those pictures of people taking flirty selfies at concentration camps, this just reinforces that people have no sense of decorum and are just centering themselves.”
But that isn’t what the IMPACTS research is indicating at all. While some arts organizations and professionals may see the term entertaining as roughly synonymous with Superficial, Trivial, and Frivolous experiences, the top adjectives people use to describe places like Normandy and Gettysburg in open ended questions are Inspiring, Beautiful, Meaningful, Powerful, and Moving. As Dilenschneider writes, people associate entertainment with meaningful experiences, not meaningless ones.
Often, the context and setting contribute to the sense that an experience is entertaining. So the solemnity and scope of cemeteries and battlefields tend to create meaning for an experience. Similarly, arts districts and famous neighborhoods lends a heightened sense to experiences.
From Dilenschneider’s piece:
People believe the Sydney Opera House to be the most entertaining performance-based organization in the world, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that every single performance presented within its walls is reliably and equally entertaining. Instead, this location may be most strongly cited because the art, architecture, and iconic nature of this space extends beyond individual performances. Similarly, seeing a performance “on Broadway” contributes to higher entertainment scores
Now not everybody operates in an iconic venue or district and that is fine. As I wrote in my ArtsHacker piece:
….when asked what entertaining mean in the context of cultural organizations, “something you want to share” and “unique” followed terms like “inspiring, engaging, meaningful, relevant, and fun”. It is absolutely possible to create experiences which are meaningful, relevant, unique and something people want to share within the context of a smaller organization in a manner that larger organizations are entirely unable.
Take a look at the ArtsHacker piece for more info and consider subscribing to Dilenschneider’s page. She and the IMPACTS team have consistently provided some great data interpretation, particularly during the Covid pandemic. I barely touched on all the content and commentary they provided on this subject.