Perception of Crime Is Impacting Urban Based Arts Orgs, Change Of Framing Is Required

Yesterday there was a report that the rate of violent crimes and some property crimes fell in the first quarter of 2024.  However, that may come as weak comfort to urban based arts organizations because there is still a perception that crime rates are high in urban areas. A recent post on Know Your Own Bone by Colleen Dilenschneider’s team says this is impacting people’s intent to visit arts organizations in urban settings (subscription required).

When compared to 2019, respondents in the first quarter of 2024 indicated less willingness to visit urban based arts and cultural entities. What surprised Dilenschneider’s team was that nearly 50% of people living in urban areas indicated they were less likely to visit an urban based organization.  The further people lived from a city, the less likely they felt they would visit an urban arts organization. Of course travel distance likely was a factor in diminished intent to visit. However, the overall results align with data about  decreased attendance at Broadway shows by people living in NYC suburbs.

Some of the contributing factors Dilenschneider’s folks cite is the lack of activity in urban settings–fewer office workers leads to less bustle and activity on the streets, in restaurants, cafes, storefronts. The lack of activity can help feed a perception of a place being unsafe even if there is no data to back it up.

You may have noticed something: We’re talking about crime perceptions increasing, not necessarily actual crime statistics.

Research suggests that violent crime is declining, but Americans still feel less safe. Though there may be a delta in actual crime vs. perceived crime, it may not matter. Whether it’s real or perceptual, potential audiences are increasingly citing crime as a reason to stay home.

In terms of the crime people cite as creating a disincentive to attendance, it varies according to where people live. In some cases, it is a sense of vague unease about urban environments rather than anything specific.

The top four crime barriers are all the same but in a different order for urban, suburban, and exurban audiences (homeless/unhoused populations, panhandling, news stories, drugs). Audiences who live further away from an urban area rely more heavily on “news stories” in shaping their crime perceptions. “Do not know” also makes the top ten for suburban and exurban potential visitors who cite safety perceptions as a primary reason why they do not visit despite their stated interest in doing so. However, they cannot put their finger on exactly the source of their crime-related concerns or the kind of crime that is most worrisome to them when it comes to visiting their nearest downtown region.

In terms of how to combat this perception, Dilenschneider’s team suggests focusing on the macroenvironment in which your organization operates. Instead of promoting a visit to your organization as an isolated experience, place it in the context of the amenities of the whole neighborhood:

“Is going to the museum worth venturing into the city?” may not be enough on its own to overcome negative perceptions.

“Is going to the museum, walking along the waterfront, exploring the historic district, sipping a cocktail at a café, and then enjoying a terrific dinner worth venturing into the city?” likely represents a very different calculus for visitors.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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.

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