Yes! On the whole, cultural organizations are perceived as more welcoming than even two years ago. Here’s how much change we’ve seen by organization type.
The last two years have been a wild ride, to say the least. We’re not short on reminders of the challenges for the cultural industry – closures, layoffs, recovery efforts, ever-changing safety protocols, capacity restrictions, and more… but we’re not discussing these continuing evolutions this week.
Our end-of-year 2021 data is in, and we’re going to celebrate noteworthy progress made by cultural entities in terms of welcoming perceptions over the last two years.
The needle has moved for most organization types surrounding attitude affinities, and it may be exciting fuel for further efforts and continued investment.
Are cultural organizations perceived as more welcoming “to people like me” than in 2019?
At IMPACTS Experience, we are consistently monitoring several perceptions surrounding attitude affinities – how much people feel that certain organizations and entity types are “places for people like me” or are “welcoming to people like me.” We switch up these questions interchangeably, as well as others, to get to the heart of overall welcoming perceptions.
It may be tempting in today’s current environment to instinctively associate negative attitude affinities primarily with ethnicity – how welcoming are art museums perceived to be among self-identified Latinx audiences, for instance? However, attitude affinities can relate to any person for any reason. For example, children’s museums tend to have the lowest attitude affinity metrics among cultural organizations. This is not because they are necessarily perceived to be unwelcoming to BIPOC individuals, but because they are not perceived as welcoming to people without children. And as it turns out, a growing percentage of the US population does not have a child in the household.
Attitude affinities matter because most cultural entities aim to be community assets that are viewed as welcoming to as many people as possible, regardless of age, race, gender, family makeup, physical ability or disability, or anything else. The greater the attitude affinities associated with an organization, the less of a barrier welcoming perceptions are to engagement. And, in turn, the more people the organization stands to successfully serve.
The values below are shown by mean scalar value. In other words, it is shown by the average of how much people in the United States agree with the statement on a 1-100 scale. In this research, an increase or decrease of even a few points is meaningful. When a value rises or falls by more than a few points, it is an indication to us that something is particularly noteworthy may be happening.
And indeed, leaders at many of these organization types will likely agree that elevated perceptions on this front are not an accident! Across the board, we generally observed organization types making active efforts to expand audiences within this duration – and especially in/after 2020. (EOY stands for “end of year.”)
Every organization type monitored has elevated its welcoming perceptions over the last five years. While some organization types elevated perceptions more than others, the trend line is positive overall. Among all exhibit-based organization types we monitor (including those not shown here such as gardens and children’s museums), attitude affinities have increased by nearly 6% since 2017. And among all performance-based organization types we monitor (including those not shown here such as theaters and dance organizations), attitude affinities have increased by 2% since 2017.
You’ll note that zoos and aquariums – already leaders of the pack – notably elevated their welcoming perceptions since 2017. (The higher the scalar variable, the harder it is to move up the metric.) However, the most dramatic and exciting movement has been in perceptions of history museums and historic sites, and art museums. They increased their overall welcoming perceptions by an impressive 7.6% and 9.4%, respectfully. That’s great news!
The above chart quantifies attitude affinities across a representative sample of US adults. However, attitude affinity perceptions – especially as they relate to BIPOC individuals – become a greater priority among cultural entities during the uprising against racial injustice in the United States triggered by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This may be a contributory catalyst for the rather dramatic elevations for some organization types from 2019 to 2021 as indicated in the chart above.
The chart below shows welcoming perceptions among people who self-identify as non-white, specifically. Indeed, efforts to more effectively and thoughtfully engage non-white audiences may have played a major role in elevating attitude affinities among US adults on the whole.
Why are we using “non-white” instead of BIPOC as the descriptor? This is an especially good question because “non-white” may be problematic in that it is white-centric. We see in the research that people who self-identify as “non-white” are a wider group of people than those who self-identify as BIPOC. In other words, BIPOC risks missing the voices of people who do not self-identify in that specific manner but do identify as non-white. Additionally, being a white, non-Hispanic individual is the single most-shared characteristic of visitors to cultural entities in the US. This allows us to look into the critical voices of people who are not in that large group. We are able to further parse this down by self-identified ethnicity by organization type and region, so do let us know if we can help on that front for your organization or community.
Prior to the pandemic, cultural organizations were far from racially representative in their onsite engagement. But there’s reason for hopeful progress, as we’ve also observed a notable increase in non-white first-time visitors attending cultural entities during the pandemic. These engagement trends may be reflected in the 2021 research on attitude affinities.
While this chart provides reason to celebrate, it also indicates room for further improvement in terms of the welcoming perceptions of more diverse audiences. Welcoming perceptions have generally increased among non-white audiences, but they are all lower than US composite perceptions. This is both an opportunity and an indicator that this work is ongoing and far from finished.
What percentage of people believe that cultural organizations are NOT welcoming “to people like me?”
While it’s very helpful to understand how welcoming organizations are perceived to be, it’s also helpful to understand how many people perceive cultural organizations to be welcoming. In this case, we’re observing the representative percentage of people in the US who do NOT feel that these organizations are particularly hospitable for folks such as themselves. Of course, the goal here is to decrease the percentage of people with negative attitude affinities over time.
On the whole, cultural organizations are doing just that!
In 2017, nearly two out of ten people did not feel as though a zoo was welcoming to them. Today, it’s closer to one out of ten. While about four out of every ten adults in the US didn’t feel comfortable visiting an art or history museum as recently as 2019, it’s now three out of ten. This is big progress that does not happen by accident. It shows dedication to expanding and welcoming audiences, and that this ongoing dedication has already altered public perception.
But what’s up with orchestras? Overall attitude affinities have increased for symphonies and orchestras since 2017, though these organizations began with (and still have) an overall perception of being much less welcoming than other organization types. While the people who find them welcoming may have increased in their perceptions enough to move the needle, the percentage of the US population that does not feel welcome has grown. There are some unique conditions at play for orchestras compared to other organization types. On the whole, orchestras welcome older audiences and are comparatively struggling to engage younger fans. Moreover, it’s a decades-long endeavor to achieve diverse representation on a symphony’s stage. Today’s music access programs may not reap their rewards in terms of expanded audiences until tomorrow (and indeed, the further an organization falls in attitude affinities compared to other organizations, the harder it is to catch up). There are several other reasons why these numbers have been difficult to move for orchestras. Certainly, they represent a critical and nuanced opportunity.
Why are attitude affinities improving?
If your organization is like most, then this increase isn’t an accident. Over the last two years, we’ve observed in our own work many organizations better understanding the importance of engaging more diverse audiences in light of increased national awareness surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice on the whole and more specifically within cultural institutions and their roles in the community.
We’d like to extend a pat on the back to zoos and aquariums, as these entities were already generally perceived as welcoming to people in the United States, and they still managed to elevate their welcoming perceptions.
But there’s also sincere excitement for history organizations (history museums, historic sites, historic houses, etc.) and art museums, too. On the whole, these organizations have elevated their welcoming perceptions the most. While there’s still a way to go on all fronts, the research indicates their efforts to move the needle are warranted.
History organizations may be taking the opportunity to tell more historically difficult stories that have heretofore been ignored or overlooked in our American history. They may be having more “hard conversations” relating to their sites and histories, exhibits, artifacts, and collections than in the past – and letting people know that they are doing so. The uprising against racial injustice may have increased the perceived responsibility and demand on these entities to tell more inclusive and honest stories. Indeed, welcoming perceptions may well be a product of these more candid responses.
The research suggests that the US public may be noticing the active effort amongst art entities in the United States to hire more representative leaders, rethink docent programs, and highlight art from more diverse voices and backgrounds.
Additionally, more people are engaging with cultural organizations online during the pandemic. Messages around active efforts to welcome new audiences that are posted online are more likely to be seen than in the past. In this way, organizations “walking their talk” by way of publicizing initiatives to expand and welcome new audiences may stand to benefit from elevated attitude affinities.
This is a moment to celebrate. Efforts are resonating and more people feel welcome visiting cultural organizations! The industry is progressing.
And it may be just that – a wonderful moment to celebrate progress during a time when progress feels difficult. Cultural organizations may be moving in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to do to expand audiences and make everyone feel welcome.
Let’s take this win as an indication that cultural organizations may be on the right track in terms of welcoming perceptions…
And let’s keep going.
IMPACTS Experience provides data for the world’s leading organizations through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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