You And Your Audience Don’t Agree On What It Means To Be Entertaining

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.

 

War Cemeteries Are The Most Entertaining Places In The World, Just Not In The Way You Define It

Providing Attendees With A Happy Ending

About a year ago, I wrote about a post Colleen Dilenschneider made showing a link between museum gift shops and museum memberships.  She recently wrote a similar piece about how gift shops can help cement relationships and good impressions in museum-goers.

She presents data that shows people who visit museum retail spaces report higher levels of satisfaction than those that don’t visit those spaces. She admits there is a chicken and egg element to this data because it isn’t clear if people who are already satisfied with their experience are then choosing to visit the shop or if visiting the shop is generating an increased level of satisfaction for them.

Dilenschneider suggests that it may not matter which scenario is in operation:

If people who are having better experiences are more likely to go into the store (to experience one of the best parts of visiting a museum retail shop), then that’s fantastic. They are further heightening their experience and paving the way for positive endorsements – which are key for motivating attendance. Alternately, if someone isn’t having a good experience and they enter the shop and have a better experience as a result, that’s fantastic as well.

Even if you aren’t running a museum or have a retail element associated with your arts related experience, Dilenschneider cites some data which is very much relevant for you. She references studies conducted by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman who

“…explained that “our memory of past experiences (pleasant or unpleasant) does not correspond to an average level of positive or negative feelings but to the most extreme point and the end of the episode.” …He discovered that humans don’t often remember much of an experience accurately. Instead, we primarily remember how we felt at the peak of the experience, and at the end of it.

Organizations with well-executed retail experiences may be grateful for the peak-end rule, as it means people who visit the shop before leaving the museum have a greater likelihood of departing with a more positive view of their entire visit. (Those with difficult parking situations, on the other hand, may be less enthused about the peak-end rule…)

It is not always possible to control the peak experience of the evening–it could be the dinner before they arrived, a pleasant/unpleasant interaction with another attendee as easily as it could be the predictable crescendo experience everyone else in attendance had. The end of the experience is more frequently within our scope of control –although as she mentions bad parking/traffic can be among those defining final moments. There is an opportunity to influence someone’s willingness to return by investing attention into the quality of experience as they depart.

Be Careful Monetizing Those Vacation Videos

So as you are getting out there traveling to enjoy the natural beauty of the U.S. National Parks this summer, you may want to take a cautionary note from a case Gordon Firemark wrote about in May.  A guy who was filming parts of a feature film was dinged by the Nation Park Service for not securing the proper permits. While the charges against him were dropped, he pressed suit claiming that requiring permits and fees were unconstitutional. The 1st District Court of Appeals held that the fees and permits requirement was constitutional and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Firemark notes that this ruling puts some casual recording and photography activities at risk of prosecution if people seek to monetize those materials.

You take your family vacation to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, or Yosemite, and you capture some beautiful video. Then, you post it on Youtube. If you monetize that video, it just became commercial., and you could be fined, penalized, or even jailed for violating the park service’s fee-and-permit regulations. Same could happen if you capture a great still image and decide to offer it for sale via a stock-photo agency?

Do a livestream on your monetized YouTube channel from inside the park? Bingo. You need a filming permit. And that costs.

[…]

There are a few things we as creators can do to address this situation.

Don’t monetize your work. Ever. Period.
Get the permits. (As understand it, the permit Price should’ve obtained would’ve cost $500 if obtained before filming… and there were penalties and interest tacked on later since he didn’t).
Write to your congressional representatives and ask them to address the situation.

Snapshot Of 2021 Arts Gives Hints About How We Got To Today

Last week, Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was on the NEA’s  Quick Study podcast (transcript) talking about the state of the arts economy for 2021 based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  While we may all wish to push 2021 out of our memory, there was some interesting data that emerged after the first year plus of Covid, including some hints of decisions and trends here in 2023.

For instance:

Despite all the setbacks for the sector in the past few years, the arts value added in 2021 expanded to a record high of one trillion dollars, over one trillion actually, representing 4.4 percent of GDP, and this growth rate more than doubles that of the US economy.  The economy as a whole grew by 5.9 percent versus 13.7 percent for arts and cultural industries.

The fine print to that is that a significant part of this growth was in category of web streaming and web publishing of arts content which moved to the top position among arts industries by size. Most of this activity was in the commercial rather than non-profit sector. Similarly, most of the categories that either regained or exceeded where they were in 2019 were in the commercial realm including “movies, broadcasting, creative advertising, and arts retail,…” Government run entities like schools, arts and cultural agencies, museums, libraries, cultural exhibits and parks also held relatively steady compared to their 2019 numbers.

Iyengar said the data showed other areas doing better than 2020, but not reaching the levels they were at in 2019.

At the top of that list I’d place a category called independent artists, writers, and performers. So these are establishments led by artists that have at least one employee on payroll. This industry gained from 2020, but at 33.5 billion is still under the 41 billion it contributed to GDP in 2019. Performing arts organizations also have not quite caught up with 2019 levels, though they’re nearly there, as is the case with fine arts schools, and custom architectural services such as woodwork and metal. Then there are a couple of industries that have been in persistent decline since 2020– arts related construction, and grant making services in the arts.

I didn’t know quite what to make of that last bit. Iyengar says these declines are based on economic activity. Given the amount of time it can take to get construction projects set into motion, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that had not regained momentum after a pause. I am more concerned to think about what it means that grant making in the arts slowed in 2021. My read on that is that granting organizations were pulling back their giving in 2021. Though maybe with arts organizations closing, there were fewer recipients to whom to give?

An interesting observation Iyengar makes later is that while economic activity by self-employed workers is recognized as contributing to the Gross Domestic Product, the data does not distinguish the workers by industry. Iyengar says he suspects a lot of the growth in activity among arts industries is the result of cutting staff and using independent contractors.

“So what that means is I suspect that we’re seeing turbocharged growth for some arts industries even while they’ve lost workers since 2019, and that’s because they’re reverting to contractors such as self-employed artists and other workers who are not counted in the total employment figures here. So that might be why the total employment numbers are lower but we see economic growth still continuing.”