Culture Track Report Says The Same People Won’t Be Returning

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.



Psychology of Re-Opening linked to a Washington Post story about all the psychological considerations some movie theater operators are factoring into re-opening their spaces for screenings. To paraphrase one of those interviewed, there may be a whole series of conditions that have to be met to admit audiences, but you don’t want people to feel like they are undergoing an airport screening just to see a movie.

An owner of a movie chain in Omaha has decided to rely on a mix of subtle imagery and social proof:

One conclusion: Leaning in to safety messaging is a surefire way to turn off customers.

“If you’re leading off the pitch with ‘It’s so clean you’re not going to get sick’ then you’ve already lost the argument,” said Barstow, whose company is about to open a new Omaha location. Instead of talking about disinfectant and distancing, he says, he believes it more effective to roll out traditional marketing that slips in the requisite information — an image of a shiny lobby with an employee in the background who just happens to be wearing a mask, for instance.

“You let people know you’re taking care of them, but very subtly,” he said.

Barstow said he and his daughter, who runs the company’s marketing operation, have discovered that the best weapon for luring customers might be not what the theater is doing at all — it’s the sight of other customers.


“Seeing someone like a mom bring her three kids to a matinee is I think going to be the best tool to make people feel comfortable about coming themselves.” Of course, he acknowledges, such events need to happen organically, captured instead of contrived on social media.

At my venue, we had already been planning to start showing movies in late July before our governor added live performance venues alongside movie theaters as places that are allowed to hold events. One of the major points of concern for employees was whether customers would wear masks. We weren’t sure how forceful we could be, but the recent decision by the AMC movie theater chain to make masks mandatory gives us a little more support, regardless of how insistent we decide to be.

One interesting observation from the Washington Post article I hadn’t really considered was the importance of having mask wearing staff communicate reassurance with their eyes and posture since the rest of the face won’t be visible. In this, perhaps the performing arts have a competitive advantage.

“You have to train staff how to reassure customers with their eyes, because no one will be able to see their mouths,” said Barstow, who is mandating employees wear masks.

“Maybe,” he mused, “we should hire local drama students.”

Putting Some O’ That Theory Into Practice

I arrived in my office last Friday to find a heck of a lot more emails in my Inbox than I am used to. It turned out the evening before the governor had announced a change of guidelines that would allow performing arts organizations to open after July 1 and people immediately started scrambling trying to ascertain what it all meant.  Ultimately, nothing the new order contained deviated from our expectations by much at all in terms of how it would impact seating capacity or operational practices. We were on a Zoom call with the county attorney today and he had nothing surprising to say in his reading of the order, but it was good to have our understanding confirmed.

Like me, you may have heard that Texas’ governor had issued guidance on performing arts centers last week.  However, I was surprised to learn that Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL was having concerts last week. I hadn’t heard that things had opened that far in any other state.

The performances in Clearwater were in their lobby in a cabaret type setting  with attendance capped at 80 people. It looks like the three shows on June 11 sold out quickly and the added shows on June 14,  19 & 25 sold out as well. I was wondering if there are any readers in Florida who may have attended who could talk about the show and what their experience was. I see from an article on the show there were some screening procedures and people were seated at a social distance.

Fans were offered face masks at the gate, temperature-checked upon entry, and delivered drinks and snacks by servers in gloves and black masks. They sat in groups of four or fewer, and for the most part, only got up to hit the head.

The venue is also communicating their safety policies in the events scheduled this month which include the following.

– Venue staff will be wearing face masks; we encourage patrons to do the same. Face masks are available at the door upon request.
– Hand sanitizer stations are readily available. If you are in need of an attendant with cleaning supplies, please ask the wait staff.
– Table selection is on a first-come/first-served basis. We ask that you not change tables once you are seated.
– We encourage remaining at your table during the show. If you wish to stand, you will be asked to move behind the seated area and maintain social distancing.
– All food and beverage service will be table-side. There will be no walk-up service available.
– If you suspect you are ill or reside with someone who is ill with flu-like symptoms, we ask you to exchange for a future show.
– While we are committed to providing a clean and safe environment, it is impossible to eliminate all health risk in any location so please use discretion.

This seems a good example upon which to base your own venue communications as you start to open so that you don’t have to invent it all from scratch.

Guides For Reopening Planning

Last week I had a post on Arts Hacker featuring the Event Safety Alliance’s (ESA)  Reopening Guide for live event venues. You may have already seen the guide being passed around by a lot of people. Given the times, I feel like distribution hasn’t reached the point of over-saturation. When I start seeing it more frequently than ads for the presidential campaign, I’ll know it is time to stop.

In my Arts Hacker post, I focused on the idea of legal duty of care. I had been on a webinar with Steven Adleman, a lawyer who serves as Vice President of ESA, and he addressed the concerns many people had regarding their liability if people were exposed to Covid-19 while at their event.

In addressing that, he said firstly, that if someone is social enough to attend a live event, they probably interacted with others so much that it would be difficult to prove your event was the source of their illness.

None of which excuses you from sanitizing the hell out of everything in sight and implementing diligent operating practices.

Which bring us to the ESA Reopening Guide’s statement about a duty of care. I suspect Adleman wrote it because much the same content appeared in the webinar he conducted. I quoted it in my ArtsHacker post, but feel it is significant enough to repeat here:

“As a matter of common law, everyone has a duty to behave reasonably under their own circumstances.  Consequently, there is no such thing as ‘best’ practices.  There are only practices that are reasonable for this venue, this event, this crowd, this time and place, during this pandemic.  Because few operational bright lines would make sense, The Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide is designed to help event professionals think through their own circumstances.  In the order than one plans an event, the Reopening Guide looks closely at the health and safety risks involved in reopening public spaces, then proposes risk mitigation measures that are likely to be reasonable under the circumstances of the smaller events and venues that will reopen first.”

Even though it just appeared last week, I wrote and submitted my Arts Hacker post around May 15. In the interim, the Performing Arts Center Consortium (PACC) released their own reopening guide. It is a little nicer than the ESA guide, especially in regard to the color coded charts outlining what should be done in different phases of reopening.

I am not going to even pretend to hide my annoyance at the existence of these two guidebooks released around the same time.

It would really have been great if the ESA and PACC guides had been combined. Lest you think they were separate efforts developed independently of each other, the PACC board of advisors is listed as contributors to the ESA guide, together, in the exact same order as they appear in the PACC guide. There is no excuse that they were unaware of the separate efforts.

In the past, I would just shrug at similar duplicative efforts by competing groups. But during these times when half the day is spent trying to figure out how our organizations and/or individual practices might manifest in the next normals and the other half of the day is spent trying to understand how to keep employees/co-workers/family/friends safe in the face of uncertainty about the threat the virus poses, the need to be aware of and expend effort to track down two sources of advice contributes to the problem, not the solution.



Meeting Your Legal Duty Of Care In Post-Covid Reopening

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