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Survey Finds Arts Audiences Eager To Return — But Not Until Next Year

A new survey found that Boston-area arts audiences are eager to return to museums and cultural events — but likely not until next year.

The survey, called the Audience Outlook Monitor, was conducted by arts consulting firm WolfBrown and sponsored by local nonprofit ArtsBoston with the city of Boston’s office of arts and culture. More than 3,000 Boston-area arts-goers from 16 regional theaters, museums and concert series were surveyed.

A vast majority of respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” eager to return to performances and museums. Nearly 90% expected to spend as much or more money on the arts as they had before the pandemic, and 96% of patrons intended to maintain or increase their level of philanthropic support to cultural organizations.

But audiences expressed caution as well. A large majority wouldn’t attend arts events without epidemiological improvements, such as a vaccine, widespread testing and a reduction to near-zero infection rates. A little over half didn’t expect to return to cultural events until at least January.

“January is financially very precarious for most of our arts and cultural organizations,” ArtsBoston deputy director Jennifer Falk said. “It is not like we can just turn off the lights and then reopen in January, especially in terms of performing arts and rehearsal space and all of that.”

Company One managing director Karthik Subramanian, whose theater participated in the survey, said he was not surprised by the likely timeline laid out in the results. The news that audiences intended to maintain pre-pandemic levels of spending was welcome as well — but Subramanian noted that survey respondents were overwhelmingly white and older. Those demographics failed to capture Company One’s audience, about half of which is composed of people of color and under the age of 35. “I know what one half of our audience wants to do. But the other half are not part of the survey and I’m kind of curious as to how that’s going to play out,” he said.

Falk said they hoped to diversify respondent demographics in the next iteration of the study, which is designed to capture evolving consumer attitudes by repeatedly surveying audiences over six months.

Other organizations found welcome information in some of the survey’s findings. Celebrity Series director of marketing and communications Jack Wright said that respondents’ hunger for social contact affirmed the organization’s decision to make their livestreamed concerts interactive.

And he found hope in respondents’ enthusiasm for the arts. “[Audiences] understand arts organizations and are concerned about their survival,” he said.

Additional participating organizations include Actors’ Shakespeare Project; American Repertory Theater; ArtsBoston; ArtsEmerson; Boston Symphony Orchestra; Central Square Theater; The Dance Complex; Emerson Colonial Theater; Global Arts Live; Handel & Haydn Society; Huntington Theatre Company; Lyric Stage Company of Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Museum of Science.

Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's arts and culture team. She covers everything from fine art to television to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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