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/)
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.
Hat tip to the National Endowment for the Arts for linking to this video of an 11 year old taking The Bob Ross Challenge – basically trying to keep up and replicate Bob Ross’ painting instructions as he relates them during an episode of his show.
The kid, Khary Halsey, an avowed Bob Ross fan since he was six, is charming and hilarious just on his own. But it is right at the end of the video that he says something that encompasses what the creative experience should be for everyone, “From the looks of it, I did horrible, but I feel great.”
Okay, so obviously people shouldn’t always think they did horrible, it is the satisfaction and enjoyment of the experience regardless of the perceived quality of the product that I am advocating as the ideal.
Khary isn’t sure if he is supposed to be having this contradictory experience so he follows up saying, “I have weird feelings.” The truth is, those feelings are quite normal and shared by a lot of people, including, I am sure many with long careers in the arts. There are a lot messages we get throughout the day, both overt and subtle, that equate quality with marketability. (And don’t get us started on “you shouldn’t expect to get paid if you are having fun.”)
You may have seen the news today that the results of the Culture Track Covid-19 report were publicly released today. While some of the data about audience willingness to return to arts and culture organizations is a little dated due to the survey being conducted at the end of April through May 19, the majority of the findings can be very valuable to arts and cultural organizations.
They had only expected about 50,000 people to participate but had over 124,000 respondents to the survey. Participants ranged from knitting groups and walking clubs to organizations you might typically associate with arts and culture activities. Back on June 17, Advisory Board for the Arts hosted a webinar where staff from Slover Linnet and LaPlaca Cohen gave an early preview of the results to organizations that had participated in the study. If you want a deeper view of the results, you can watch the webinar.
The infographic layout of the report that came out today does a good job presenting the data, but there is one thing I don’t think they made clear enough which may cause people to question the results. Especially since the methodology is explained in a separate document rather than included as an appendix to the Key Finding report.
Since so many of the respondents were people on the mailing lists of arts and culture organizations around the country, you would correctly assume that it might skew the data. The Culture Track folks worked with another organization to distribute the survey a representative sample of the US population. The results you see in the key findings report are weighted to be representative of the US population.
The webinar presents both the core subscriber/ticket buyer response percentages and weighted percentages. While the core supporters are much more likely to say the arts are important and worthy of preservation than the general population, they also more likely to expect organizations to implement strict health and safety protocols upon re-opening.
A couple of the bigger takeaways for me:
• People said they were feeling lonely, bored and disconnected and one of the things they missed most was sharing experiences with family and friends. In the webinar, the presenters suggested if there were a way for arts organizations to digitally allow people to share experiences, it would potentially serve a large need.
• Something to keep in mind is that people may want a much more interactive experience in the future. 81% of respondents said they were doing something creative while quarantined. Cooking, singing, handcrafting (knitting, painting, pottery, woodwork, etc), photography and writing were among the top responses.
• Many people were engaging in digital cultural experiences in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. In the webinar, the speakers noted that the demographics of people participating digitally was more diverse in terms of education, gender, race/ethnicity than those attending in person. They suggested that digital content might be a way to attract more diverse groups to in person experiences over the long term. (Obviously online content needs to align with an in-person experience–including how welcome one feels.) There are also some who appreciated digital content as a solution to concerns about affordability, transportation and schedule.
• Unfortunately few people reported paying for digital content. In the webinar, they said 2% of people reported they paid for digital content, but in the Key Findings report that came out today, it says 13% have paid for content. It made me wonder if they received additional or corrected data since June 17. Most of the other numbers I was using to cross reference the webinar and Key Findings report remained the same.
• In general, what people crave the most upon an anticipated return to in-person experiences is ability to enjoy oneself/de-stress in the company of family and friends.
Obviously, a lot of nuance and detail not included here so take a look at the report and/or webinar. Overall the the title of this post reflects the reality of the next normal. Those that physically engage in-person won’t be the same as before in both the literal sense demographically and metaphoric “no one can enter the same river twice” sense. The faces may be familiar, but they will have different expectations.
Leaders might think it prudent to wait for more information about the status of the pandemic before moving forward. However, it is always worth making a decision tree to determine whether a different decision would be reached in each of these conditions. Key leaders do not always take this step. In some cases, leaders might find that the best outcome is actually the same regardless of the status of the pandemic. In that case, deferring the decision would involve paying a cost to defer the decision in order to get information that does not change the decision that gets made. There was no reason to incur that cost.
I haven’t come up with a scenario other than capital improvements/repairs and staffing decisions in which this might apply to arts and cultural organizations. I may be too entrenched right now in thinking about the pros and cons of re-opening venues in the context of economics and public perception/willingness to broaden my imagination. However, I figure some readers might be in situations where being reminded to make a decision tree might be useful for helping move things forward.
There is a piece on ArtsHacker I recently published dealing with a lot of the legal questions arts and cultural venues face when trying to make re-opening plans. You may be aware that people are pulling out official looking cards saying they are exempt from wearing face masks under the ADA. Those cards are fake in terms of having any authority behind them.
There are many reasons why people will have problems wearing face masks, but there is no automatic exemption. My Arts Hacker post includes a link to a resource provided by the Southeast ADA Center that provides guidance on this issue, including possible modifications that might be implemented.
The post also contains links to three videos by entertainment lawyer Steve Adelman who answers questions about whether you can require people to wear masks, if you can be held liable if someone contracts Covid-19 at your venue, and whether you should you have people sign liability waivers acknowledging they might be exposed to the virus.
One of the things I learned from the third video is that half the disclaimers on the back of tickets shifting risk of injury to visitors or waiving their right to sue probably won’t be enforceable in practice.