One year after pandemic, the arts are more important to us, poll finds

Have you recently listened to an online presentation of an artist-led exhibition, or maybe a virtual studio tour on Instagram? If so, you are far from alone. Artist live broadcasts are the most popular digital arts-related activity since the start of the pandemic, according to a new survey – and individual artists and performers, not organizations, are the most popular content providers .

These and other findings are summarized in the recently published report “Culture and community in a time of transformation”, Based on a survey conducted by LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett Audience Research. The study examines the experience of people in the cultural sector in the era of COVID-19. Unlike other culture-centric pandemic impact reports, it does not focus on a single group, such as artists or museum workers, but rather on the general public.

To capture this larger audience, 532 arts organizations sent the survey to their mailing lists, collecting 74,000 individual respondents. An additional 3,600 respondents were recruited from a baseline sample provided by the AmeriSpeak panel of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). To balance the general population and list the respondents, who were generally “whiter, wealthier, and more urban than the nation as a whole”, the panel intentionally oversampled “under-represented groups” with respect to race, l education and income.

The survey observed a “growing sentiment for the arts and culture”. (graphic courtesy of LaPlaca Cohen / Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation Report)

The study began a year ago, with a first research phase deployed from April 29 to May 19, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. The latest report is based on a survey conducted from April 5 to 30, 2021 and presents more “organizations serving BIPOC, cultural organizations located in rural areas of the country, festivals, libraries, concert halls for lucrative and parks’. The most represented institutions were still museums (192 distributed the survey to their mailing lists) and performing arts spaces (184.)

A striking increase between the first and second phases of research: a year after the start of the pandemic, respondents consider arts organizations more important to them personally. A “growing sense of arts and culture” was especially true for the BIPOC communities, defined in the report as Asians or Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and Latin Americans, Native Americans, and Black / Afro-Americans. Americans.

The application of the mask is the main pandemic measure that makes the public feel safe. (graphic courtesy of LaPlaca Cohen / Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation Report)

Other results are less surprising: 65% of respondents said they prefer in-person cultural activities over online cultural activities. Only 9% favored online experiences, while a larger percentage of 26% are defined as ‘digitally agnostic’, either preferring both roughly equally or choosing to make decisions based on content. Free access was considered the most important quality for an online business (out of three qualities identified, which also included comprehensive access and a social component.)

Yet the issue of access to the arts is on the minds of many: 62% of respondents believe it is important that digital activities include participants from different places. As Lise Ragbir observed in an editorial for Hyperallergic last year, online programming has broadened and diversified audiences for museums and other cultural organizations, but it remains to be seen whether these gains will continue in the years to come.

Of those who said they did not pay for any artistic content online, more than a quarter said their financial situation made it difficult for them to pay. And for those interviewees who were already attending in-person exhibitions, concerts, and other events at the time the survey was distributed, applying the mask was the primary way organizations made them feel safe.

The survey asked respondents if they thought systemic racism was present in different types of arts organizations. (graphic courtesy of LaPlaca Cohen / Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation Report)

The survey also examined public perspectives on the role of institutions in the social justice landscape. More than three-quarters of respondents identified one or more social issues that they believe arts and cultural organizations need to address, with systemic racism being the top priority. Income inequality, climate change and political divide are not far behind. Notably, black and African American respondents said they perceive systemic racism to be more prevalent in museums than in any other type of arts organization.

Finally, for arts institutions looking to make the changes audiences want to see, the numbers couldn’t be clearer: Falling ticket and entry prices should be at the top of their list. Improving equity and inclusion, supporting artists and local communities, and engaging more diverse groups were also seen as important.

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Corina C. Butler