Shifting ground: Key insights into audiences' behaviours and attitudes post-covid
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been talking to people across the island about the trends that we are seeing in people’s behaviours and attitudes post-Covid. The anecdotal evidence, combined with the research is ringing some warning bells that we should be listening to and talking about.
Some of this makes for an uncomfortable, and frankly, exhausting reading. It feels like we have to get geared up for another revisit and refocus in our audience relationships at a time when people are exhausted from the ever-shifting sands of the past 2 ½ years.
But the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining, yes? Let’s start talking about the things that are coming down the line in terms of shifting behaviours and priorities.
Things aren’t going back to “normal” any time soon
Audience development is all about relationship building and our relationships over the last 30 months have been severed or even broken. To stretch the relationship analogy a little further, it’s akin to when one half of the childhood sweethearts goes off to university in a different place. At the start, it is all proclamations that “nothing will change” and “we will stay in touch”. But after 3 years, they are both different people with different priorities and different needs.
And that is what has happened with cultural engagement – it has slipped down the priority list for audiences. It isn’t that they no longer value or appreciate it – they haven’t gone anti arts. But they filled the gaps in their lives and their needs with other things. They discovered new things and new places.
Our job has to be to remind them why they came in the first place.
Willingness to return is increasing, but not for everyone
Current research tells us that people are more willing to come back but that does not apply to everyone. Certain groups, for example disabled audiences, are still hesitant and cautious and those who tend to be quicker out of the house are younger and more urban.
There is a danger that we could sleepwalk into losing these audiences if we do not start having conversations about how we cater for their cultural and creative needs now.
There is an expectation that digital will continue
Cultural organisations responded quickly to the need for online contact to connect with their audiences. And while we know that for some the online format will never replace the joy of in person, it did provide access for others. And people want this access to continue. How can we adapt to make sure we are providing something for our audiences who will only ever engage online?
Working from home is here to stay
At least 1/3 of people are still doing some element of home working with many companies shifting to a hybrid model. It is safe to say that most people will not be at their desk from 9-5.30pm Monday to Friday anymore. Combine this with the fact that people spent so much time at home during lockdown and we have to think about how we are going to persuade them out of their houses and back into town for a performance. How will this shift in working pattern affect the timings of events and those venues based in town centres?
Cost of living crisis
The big one. Layered on top of COVID impacts, it seems difficult to underestimate the impact of this on our audiences and our financial stability. For some people who kept their jobs and their salaries during lockdown, they were able to save money. For others though, the pandemic saw them lose their livelihood overnight and chew through any savings they had. The gap between the haves and the have nots in society is widening. And at the same time, the arts have never been needed more – to connect people, to comfort or challenge, to see things differently or give them hope.
As costs rise, our public subsidy gets stretched even further. And that is without factoring in any further cuts coming down the line. If we try to close the gap by increasing our charges for tickets or services, we run the risk of dividing our audiences and becoming inaccessible for whole parts of society. If arts organisations are civic organisations, the moral argument grows even stronger. We have a duty to the audiences we exist for. But we also have to exist.
Time to start thinking about how we respond.