Some factors play a bigger role than others in making people feel comfortable visiting cultural entities – especially when people consider visiting an exhibit-based vs. a performance-based organization.
Exhibit-based organizations such as museums, historic sites, zoos, aquariums, and botanic gardens make up a hefty portion of cultural entities in the United States. So, too, do performance-based organizations such as theaters, symphonies, and ballets. When we discuss “cultural organizations,” we mean location-based organizations with a mission to educate and inspire communities. Both exhibit and performance-based entities fall within this category. And, broadly, they tend to attract similar types of people – historically appealing most strongly to an educated and often more affluent, more urban group of visitors.
We are into week five of providing ongoing data and analysis to inform strategic operations for cultural organizations upon reopening, and something is becoming clearer:
Performance-based cultural entities may face different (and steeper) challenges compared to exhibit-based cultural entities in an immediate post-coronavirus world.
(Don’t fret, performance-based entities! Data can be a tool to inform strategies that minimize challenges upon reopening.)
Research shows that – at least for the moment – intentions to visit cultural organizations are growing stronger. While most of the United States currently remains under stay-at-home orders, some people are starting to consider and plan their visits in the future. For the time being, people anticipate beginning to return to more usual attendance behaviors within one to three months, with a full return to more usual attendance behaviors within six months.
Although intentions to visit cultural organizations may be slowly recovering, additional research shows that people may be inclined to visit some cultural enterprises more than others. Demand for cultural entities is likely to be redistributed away from entities perceived to pose a greater risk of virus spread – such as those involving many people in enclosed spaces. The data suggests a redistribution of initial demand favoring those entities that allow for greater freedom of movement, and particularly those with access to outdoor space.
What will it take to make people feel safe and comfortable visiting cultural organizations again?
Today we’re sharing an update to the data we published two weeks ago, with an additional segmentation for exhibit and performance-based institutions.
How have the findings changed compared to two weeks ago?
The baseline condition published on April 1st surveyed 3,497 adults in the United States. The data update this week includes responses from an additional 2,308 adults. We asked them, “What would make you feel safe and comfortable visiting a [insert organization type] again?” This chart includes data for the cultural industry at large.
First, we collected people’s answers to this question using a process called lexical analysis that allows us to broadly categorize responses from people using their own words. The technologies that enable this process help to minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate or summarize a respondent’s statements. These categorized responses are thereafter used to populate the response range of a multiple-choice question. In other words, we did not internally brainstorm these options and present them in a survey based on our best guess of what people would say. The options came from survey respondents.
The orange bar shows the percentage of people who cited each item two weeks ago on March 31st (published on April 1st). The dark blue bar is updated for data collected through yesterday evening, April 14.
Generally, the findings published on April 1st remain operative. You can review them in more detail here.
- People will feel most comfortable when there is a vaccine available.
- Removing government restrictions themselves will make people feel safer visiting.
- An organization’s own decision to reopen will make people feel safer, too.
- Seeing others visit will make people feel more comfortable.
- Hand sanitizer is a big deal.
- One in five people already feels safe and comfortable visiting.
- Knowing your full cleaning procedures matters least.
While the percentage of people indicating that the availability of hand sanitizer would have a positive impact on their perception of an organization decreased, the number remains meaningful. Generally, onsite health monitoring and knowing the details of facility cleaning procedures also dropped as a percent measure of respondents indicating their importance. On the whole, the findings remained relatively stable.
You’ll notice that some of the things that will make people feel comfortable visiting cultural organizations upon reopening are out of an organization’s control. Our respective boards of directors cannot dictate how many people will be infected with COVID-19, and most cultural CEOs can do precious little to speed up the time frame in which there will be a safe and available vaccine. But other items are indeed within an organization’s control! Entities can make it known how they are managing lines and crowds, making hand sanitizer available, and providing engaging outdoor programming, for instance.
How do these findings change when performance-based and exhibit-based entities are separated?
Exhibit-based organizations include entities such as zoos, aquariums, museums, historic sites, science centers, and botanic gardens. Performance-based organizations include entities such as theaters, symphonies, ballets, and musical performances. While we understand that there’s nuance for some of you (i.e. “our science museum has a large-screen theater”), this research aims to understand the broader context and may inform elements of your operation and related strategies.
Several other metrics we’re monitoring point toward potential apprehension surrounding indoor experiences that involve many people in a confined or enclosed space – which is often typical of traditional performing arts or theater experiences. That may impact what we’re seeing here as well. This said, there may not be any big surprises in the chart below. People want to feel safe (and sanitized) regardless of whether an entity is exhibit or performance-based.
Overall, the data points toward a greater need to alter experiences for performance-based entities than may be necessary for exhibit-based entities. (Although active efforts to make people feel comfortable is clearly a good idea for both categories.) While 25.3% of people would feel comfortable visiting an exhibit-based organization without any changes, only 14.7% of the respondents feel comfortable visiting a performing arts entity without significant changes in response to the coronavirus. Even knowing facility cleaning procedures – which would improve perceived comfort levels for roughly 5% of visitors to exhibit-based organizations – matters more for visiting performance-based organizations (for whom nearly 17% cite knowledge of cleaning procedures as important to their perceived comfort and safety).
The availability of a vaccine is clearly very important for people interested in visiting both exhibit and performance-based organizations. People believe that this protection may be even more necessary to safely enjoy a traditional indoor performing arts experience. This may also be a product of audience dynamics – certain performing arts participants profile as older and, thus, potentially more vulnerable to the coronavirus than participants in other types of cultural enterprises.
The task? Create programs, messaging, and experiences that are responsive to the situation at hand.
Both performance and exhibit-based organizations may be tasked to create programs and experiences that are responsive to the situation.
Maybe it’s moving performances outside. Maybe it’s integrating a virtual concert subscription into an ongoing business plan. Maybe it’s lowering the capacity of the theater and seating people in every other chair for a while. Maybe it’s weighing conditions and considering ongoing health monitoring over time, making hand sanitizer visible and letting people know it’s there, or even simply reassuring patrons that their safety is paramount and communicating how things have changed. Maybe it’s a whole host of other operational changes and messages to show that you’re responsive to concerns and putting the safety of guests first.
Maybe it’s simply asking ourselves, “Are we primarily a set of walls, or something more?”
These findings do not at all imply that performing arts – or any other entity – are irrelevant, ineffective, uninspiring, or unnecessary. That’s not what this is about. The findings are instead about feeling safe while enjoying the experience. This isn’t necessarily a deep-rooted issue calling into question what you do or why you do it. It’s the how that may need to evolve.
How do you share and inspire meaningful connection in a recovering world?
It’s a task that I don’t believe any of you have asked for.
But if anybody has the passion, creativity, and resourcefulness to lead this important charge, I believe it’s the people who work within cultural organizations.
Here are the COVID-19 data insights for cultural entities that we’ve published thus far. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.