Arts Audiences are Increasingly Restless and Fickle, Study Finds

Monday, April 28, 2014 - 01:00 PM

Smartphones at the concert (flickr/igoge)

Arts organizations face increasingly fickle, choosy audiences, who are far less loyal and increasingly motivated by the social aspects of attending events, according to a new study published Monday by LaPlaca Cohen, an arts marketing and strategy firm.

The ebbing of audience loyalty can be seen in a steep drop in the number of people buying performing arts subscriptions, from 23 percent of the overall audience in 2011 – the last time LaPlaca Cohen conducted the study – to 10 percent in 2014. Only 10 percent of visual arts audiences buy memberships, down from 26 percent in 2011.

The Culture Track 2014 study of audience behavior, which surveyed 4,026 American adults, paints a picture of dabbling arts consumers, cynical but curious. And "culture" doesn’t necessarily mean a night at the opera or museum: 80 percent of respondents define a visit to a public park as a cultural experience; 64 percent find culture in going to a bar or a restaurant.

The study found that the percentage of Americans who visit museums and attend performances has risen somewhat since 2011, with particular increases for classical music, visual arts, jazz and musical theater. Opera, dramatic theater and classical dance suffered declines.

But frequency of participation is down. Only 15 percent of respondents attended events three times or more in a month, down from 22 percent in the 2011 study. High cost and unappealing subject matter are the two principal reasons for choosing not to attend a cultural activity.  

Other highlights:

  • Young people say they attend cultural events to avoid stress. Among Millennials, 73 percent said they look to the arts for relaxation.
  • People value cultural activities as opportunities to spend time with their friends and family, a benefit they rank second only to entertainment or enjoyment value. The younger the audience, the less likely it is that they'll go to an event by themselves.
  • The study also suggests that arts organizations should better leverage people’s obsession with their smartphones by providing opportunities to take and share photos.

This is the sixth Culture Track study LaPlaca Cohen has conducted since 2001. It follows, and largely builds on, similar audience studies conducted last year by the National Endowment for the Arts and Americans for the Arts.

Arthur Cohen, the founder and CEO of LaPlaca Cohen, said at a launch event at the Times Center that arts consumers are above all “promiscuous” and “self-focused,” and organizations must work hard to listen to their audiences' desires.

In a panel discussion following Cohen’s presentation, the director Julie Tamor called the findings "surprising" and "alarming." She said that she appreciates the growing desire among audiences for interactive, social experiences. But at the same time, she cautioned that too much reliance on market research could have a homogenizing effect on creativity, as arts organizations are compelled to follow, rather than lead, their patrons. “That frightens me as an artist."

Weigh in: How would you describe your loyalty to arts organizations? Are you "culturally promiscuous?"


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Comments [3]


Loyal to an organization? It's an odd question. Performers local to me are my first choice, namely the NJSO. But it's not an exclusive relationship. I will make the journey into Manhattan for a special performance but such an occasion is rare. The rarity is due to distance and expense. However I cannot say the same for visits to Manhattan museums. These visits are not so very expensive. So I'd say my loyalty is to art, music,dance and those performers. Not so much to an oranisation.

May. 02 2014 01:30 PM
David from Flushing

I think we have to draw a line between art museums and classical music performances. Many museums have had major expansions in recent years and enjoy record attendance. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of concerts and opera which tend to be in contraction. Why are people drawn to the art of the past, but not so much the music of the past?

As a frequent visitor of the Met Museum, I have noticed a change in behavior over the years. In the past, visitors would contemplate works of art for several minutes. Now they tend to pause for only so long as it takes to snap a photo, especially with them standing in front of the artwork imitating the pose. Obviously, some visitors have limited time in a rather big place and do not have the luxury of a casual stroll.

It has been pointed out that the popular "Lord of the Rings" films ran as long as some operas and without intermissions. Clearly attention span is not an issue here, but rather the content.

Apr. 28 2014 04:12 PM
Carolyn from nyc

Bravo, Julie Taymor. That is one of the problems of arts organizations....trying to please everybody and to favor the bottom line rather than seeking to perfect the art form. Hate to tell you, but audiences are smart. They know when artistry is occurring and they also know when they are being manipulated.

Apr. 28 2014 02:04 PM

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