You Can Lead A Patron To The Door, But Only They Decide If They Feel Safe Stepping In

As something of a dovetail to my post yesterday about Drew McManus’ effort to compile a database of performing arts venue vaccination policies, (Drew reported a surge of new entries to the database overnight which I am going to credit completely to my readers), Colleen Dilenschneider posted last week that performing arts and museum audiences are increasingly interested in returning to masking requirements. (emphasis original)

At our last published masking data update (July 2), IMPACTS Experience found that 43% of high-propensity visitors to cultural entities in the United States believed that organizations should require all visitors to wear a mask. That was down from 53% on June 18, 62% on June 4, and 67% on May 2. People were feeling more comfortable going maskless!

But the percentages are going back up again.

As of August 13, 61% of high-propensity visitors to museums and performing arts organizations in the US believe these entities should mandate masks when indoors for all visitors again.

In my post yesterday, I suggested the database being compiled by McManus could be useful in supporting a case people might want to make for the implementation of masking and vaccination requirements. As Dilenschneider notes in the beginning of her post, organizational and government policy statements don’t drive attendance in and of themselves. The individual makes their own determinations about their health and safety. (my emphasis this time)

While the research is clear that potential visitors across the country are generally desiring mask mandates again and those organizations that do not have them risk jeopardizing attendance, some regions of the US don’t allow organizations to require masks…We understand that this kind of market research could be even more difficult to digest for these entities – and we hear you. Oof. However, how comfortable – or uncomfortable – people feel visiting a cultural institution given its safety protocols doesn’t change just because an entity cannot take a certain action to keep visitors safe….

Remember: Cultural leaders don’t get to decide how guests feel about their own safety, and neither does the CDC. Potential guests decide for themselves what makes them feel comfortable.

Searching For The Unforced Substitute

Via is a FastCompany article by Amy Globus whose thesis is that Covid-19 gave the arts world the kick in the butt required to motivate it to think about how to leverage digital offerings to its benefit.

I will say from the outset that like many stories I have seen written on this theme, as much as they celebrate the success of efforts by organizations and the millions of view garnered, there is little acknowledgement of whether anyone was able to recoup the cost of producing/adapting content for the digital medium. Though Globus does acknowledge many won’t have the resources to create 3-D digital models or virtual/augmented reality experiences.

This being said and gotten out of the way, articles like this one seem to always be worthwhile reading because they offer insight into how different organizations are creating content which is either valued added or an alternative to just pointing a camera at real life works and posting it on the internet.

The truth is, the trial and error experimentation to find what works is likely to incur costs that will never be covered.  Seeing what others might be doing can be instructive and help shorten the development process. Though there is a chance arts organizations will develop offerings which distinctly resonate with the characteristics their communities and aren’t as successfully replicatible elsewhere. We could see, for example, museums emerge over the next decade whose experiences are markedly different from others.

Or it could be like a Tiktok trend where everyone does the same choreography to the same music and makes the same faces as everyone else.

To my mind, it will be the value added or alternative content rather than the digital substitution for the live experience which will provide the best course for arts organizations.

A couple examples from the FastCompany article:

Celebrated fashion designer Thom Browne launched his 2021 collection in a virtual 3D showroom—and while the experience was developed due to COVID-19 restrictions, it certainly doesn’t feel like a forced substitute. Never before have audiences at a runway show had such in-depth access to the details of Browne’s work. In this iteration, viewers can take their sweet time experiencing each piece in 360-degree, high-definition glory. Browne now intends to include a virtual element in future launches, as a valuable component alongside live showings.


…But organizations without the budget or resources for flashy experiences needn’t feel like they’re doomed to the “old normal.”

One of the biggest successes in digital experience innovations during COVID-19 was the Frick Collection’s Cocktails With a Curator series. Low-tech videos filmed inside curators’ homes generated millions of views, proving, as The New York Times observed, that “online audiences don’t expect a simulation of a gallery visit on-screen. They want a museum experience native to the web—and that can be a little faster, a little less polished, a little more direct.”

Free Admission Wasn’t Useful But Will It Become Necessary?

According to CityLab Berliners are returning to the city’s museums, with credit being given to free admission Sundays.  Sixty-seven museums are offering free admission which is part of a larger effort to explore ways in which people can assemble during the pandemic.


Participating museums are required to follow hygiene and distancing rules. Offering free entrance to the museums alone won’t bring back crowds to the city center — people need to feel it is safe to visit museums and public places again, said Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s Senator for Culture and Europe.


The Museum Sunday is also one of several cultural happenings in Berlin that has found a way to attract visitors amid a sustained global health crisis. Events like the Berlin Art Week, the open-air event Draussenstadt and the Clubculture reboot weekend, a pilot project to experiment how partying can work during a pandemic, are taking place in Berlin this summer.

The free admission Sundays were being planned prior to the pandemic as a way to attract a broader audience. In the US at least research has shown that free admission doesn’t really attract new visitors, but rather attract those who already visit the museum thereby delaying their next potential paid visit by a year or two. Hearing about a similar plan in Berlin made me wonder if the same held true for Germany or if there are are more nuanced dynamics at work there.

This being said, given that people have had 18+ months of not attending public events, a situation that may extend into the near future, it may be necessary to offer free admission to entice the return of those who would normally visit. What that portends for the future remains to be seen.

The Logo May Be A Little Different, But The Brand Remains The Same

I had a post appear on ArtsHacker this week that dealt with the concept of rebranding.  In the post I cite an article by Mark Ritson arguing for revitalization of a brand rather than rebranding. Ritson’s position is that unless legally required to engage in rebranding, there is more to lose than gain by rebranding. He uses the UK National Lottery as a case study to make his point. I am not going to go too much into his reasoning behind revitalization here. I encourage you to read my ArtsHacker piece and perhaps move on to Ritson’s article.

The part that really got me thinking was his statement that the secret to maintaining a consistent brand was flexibility and change. His point was that the value of a brand is more related to a promise being made and not proportionally related to the quality of advertising and graphics. (my emphasis)

Step three, don’t reproduce the executions and approaches of the past – despite their proven impact. Time has moved on. Instead, ask what these key words or imperatives demand of you in 2022. That question is crucial because, although you don’t change the DNA of a brand when you revitalise it, you do have to acknowledge one of the core paradoxes of branding: consistency demands change.


If your beauty brand is all about health and nature, plastic packaging with a picture of waterfall and a product packed full of parabens might have worked once upon a time. But wake up and smell the future! Doing the same thing, over a long period of time – ironically – often makes you ultimately inconsistent with your stated brand position.

As I comment in the ArtsHacker post, if the organization identifies a problem to be solved and suggested changes are countered with “that is what people want/the way we have always done it,” that is probably the exact area you should be evaluating. It may not be that your beloved holiday tradition needs to be scrapped, but how it is conducted may no longer feel as relevant to your community as it once did.

Take a look and think about it. The post-Covid world provides an opportunity to revitalize how you are perceived in the community.

Maintaining A Consistent Brand Requires Change

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