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Culture Track 2017

January 31, 201831 January 2018

Arts attendance / Social impacts of the arts

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Culture Track summarizes survey findings related to Americans’ cultural engagement as well as the “attitudes, motivators, and barriers to participation”. The results are based on two online surveys of adults who participated in at least one cultural activity during the previous year: 1) a “core questions” survey which asked 1,022 residents 18 or older about a “select set of cultural activities” used for historical comparisons (margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20); and 2) an expanded survey of 3,013 Americans 18 or over covering a broader range of cultural activities (margin of error of plus or minus 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20).

The presentation maintains that broad societal shifts in communications and leisure have led to an “expanded definition of culture”, one that includes, for example, food and drink experiences (52% of survey respondents would consider this a cultural activity) as well as community festivals or street fairs (62%). The presentation argues that “redefining the very meaning of culture is a major disruptor, necessitating a reassessment of experiences and services offered, a remapping of competition, and a reconceptualization of the cultural spaces of the future”.

The top motivators for cultural participation are having fun (chosen by 81% of respondents), interest in the content (78%), experiencing new things (76%), feeling less stressed (also 76%), and learning something new (71%). The presentation indicates that meaning matters: the value of culture lies in its ability to “enable people to find or make meaning”.

Across all types of cultural activities, the top barrier to participation is the belief that “it’s not for someone like me”. The next most common barriers are not thinking of that type of activity when planning their time and the lack of convenience for them (regarding travel time or distance).

Survey results indicate that “audiences have different needs and wants at different times – or even simultaneously”. A wide range of “characteristics of an ideal cultural activity” were selected by respondents: social (34%); interactive (32%); lively (31%); hands-on (30%); active (28%); calm (24%); immersive (23%); and reflective (20%). The presentation characterizes audiences as “experience omnivores”, hungering for and expecting “experiences that suit their every need and mood”.

The survey results indicate that the desire for digital experiences in cultural activities is higher in museums and heritage than in the classical performing arts. A tailored approach to technological enhancements to cultural experiences is recommended. Cultural organizations are advised to ask whether the technology will: enrich (or distract); simplify the experience (or complicate it); and feel authentic (or forced). Enrichment is key: “The future of digital lies in identifying how it can deepen the cultural experience in ways nothing else can.”

Because loyalty is “now rooted in trust, consistency, and kindness”, the presentation suggests that “empathic, service-focused relationships will replace existing transactional models”. The survey found that audience loyalty toward cultural organizations is relatively low, ranking below restaurants or bars, retail stores, sports teams, TV (networks, websites, or streaming services), schools or universities, and political parties. To counter this, cultural organizations are urged to “forge meaningful, reciprocal, and long-lasting relationships”.

Regarding cultural philanthropy, the presentation indicates that it will become more “interest-tailored and impact-driven”, thereby increasing the importance of measuring social returns on investments. Survey results indicate that the belief that “other causes have greater impact” is the most important reason for not donating to culture. Among those who did donate to culture, the top four motivators are a belief in the organization’s mission (63%), a desire to impact the community (54%), a desire to impact the world (51%), and admiration for the organization (50%). The report concludes that “cultural organizations need to work harder to measure and articulate their distinct impact, and prove how they are essential to people’s lives and livelihood”.

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