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.
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.
At first I was just drawn to listen because Kadakia presented a familiar story of someone who loved dance and continued dancing even as she was studying Operations Research and Economics at MIT. As I got into the story, I realized it held some lessons about discounting and subscriptions for arts and culture non-profits.
It was the desire to dance that lead her to found the earliest iteration of ClassPass. She was looking to take a class in NYC and couldn’t figure out time, place, price and transportation. She struck on the idea of making a search engine that would unify this information and allow you to find and make reservations for classes in the way OpenTable allows you to make restaurant reservations.
The idea was so compelling to people that when her boss at Warner Music called in her to ask why she was quitting, she walked out with a $10,000 check from him as an investment in her unformed company. While the company was feted with great fanfare, it took 10 days before they had their first reservation. Kadakia says that is when they approached the dance & exercise studios to get a sense of customer behavior and realized that unlike plane and restaurant reservations where people have already made a decision they are going to fly or go out to eat, people looking for classes (this is ~2012) hadn’t decided to take a class.
This is where the lessons about human nature, discounts and subscriptions starts to kick in (about 34 minutes into the show.) As Guy Raz observes, in the course of about 5 years, Kadakia ends up running 5 different companies because the business model changes so drastically. (It may not seem drastic on a small scale, but when you realize she goes from raising around $40 million in her second round of funding to a recent $1 billion valuation, each change has big implications.) Kadakia says each time they changed the model, human behavior changed on them.
One of the first things they did was offer 30 day passes to a range of different classes. They promised studios around 70% of people would convert to more permanent students. It ended up about only 10% did which Kadakia admits was unfair to the studios. What they discovered was that people were continuing to take classes by signing up with a new email address. Now, my first instinct was to accuse them of gaming the system and curse them under my breath.
Kadakia and her team may have done that, but what she said they realized was that people enjoyed being able to attend a variety of classes. Instead of $45 for a 30 day product, they moved to a subscription model for $99 where you could take up to 10 classes a month, but no more than three at the same studio. Eventually they moved to an unlimited class model.
As the company grew, the fitness industry of spin, barre, bootcamp, etc classes was growing as well and they began doing business with bigger, more marquee names. This raised the average per-class rate they had to pay to studios. Kadakia says they reached a place where they were faced with adopting the business model most gyms use where they are counting on you not exercising in order to make their money. As someone who both continued to dance and took classes every day, she felt the idea of betting against their customers was anti-ethical to their founding principles of getting people to exercise.
Faced with the prospect of having a lot of people angry at them for drastically raising the price of the unlimited pass, they moved away from that as their core product and now package classes differently.
As referenced earlier, one of the main things I took away from this was that sales and subscription models not only need to be structured differently for different communities, but potentially changed up across the lifespan of your organization because audience dynamics and expectations are likely to evolve. I fully expect most venues will find the ticketing model and policies they had in place pre-Covid won’t as fit well for audiences now.