Culture Track 2014 was released this week. What is Culture Track? Well, it is basically a big study of people’s habits related to participation in cultural events. The Culture Track website says, “Fielded since 2003, Culture Track is the largest national tracking study focused exclusively on the ever-changing attitudes and behaviors of U.S. cultural consumers, including trends in attendance and motivators and barriers to participation.”
In this year’s study there are statistics that provide some insight into trends that may be important to the future of classical music. This summary below comes from Thomas Cott’s daily “You’ve Cott Mail.” (p.s. Highly recommended!)
- Visitation on the rise for some art forms: Since 2011, there has been an increase in the percentage of people who visit museums and attend performances of classical music, jazz and musical theater—but there were decreases for plays, classical dance and opera.
- Frequency of attendance in decline: The individual rate of attendance has dropped since 2011, with about half of respondents continuing to attend cultural activities once or twice a month, but only 15% attending three times or more—down from a previous 22%.
- Blurring boundaries: Audiences think of “culture” in broad terms, beyond the confines of traditional disciplines presented by museums and performing arts organizations, with almost 80% of respondents defining a visit to a public park, and 64% defining food and drink experiences as cultural activities.
- Need for shared experience: People value cultural activities as opportunities to spend time with friends and family—a benefit that they rank second only to general entertainment or enjoyment value (83% and 93% respectively). In choosing which activities to attend, they make decisions based on personal invitations and friends’ recommendations (83% and 81%, respectively) almost as much as on topic (90%) and cost (86%).
- Not attending solo: 28% of people overall state they will not attend if they have to go alone—a figure that rises to 43% among Millennials (ages 18 to 30).
- Greatest barriers to entry: Perceptions of high cost and unappealing subject matter remain the two principal reasons for choosing not to attend an activity.
- The truth about social media: Despite the high value that audiences place on personal recommendations and the company of friends and family, social media in general is still catching up as a source of information about cultural activities, used by 20% of all respondents, compared with television (36%), newspapers (28%) and radio (27%).
- Millennials driving the social media charge: But this pattern varies by age. Social media is the most-used information source among Millennial audiences (38%), only about 15% of whom turn to newspapers to learn about what’s going on. Among Gen X audiences (ages 30 to 49), 25% rely on social media for information, compared to 24% for newspapers.
- Transitional moment for technology: Not surprisingly, for cultural consumers of all age groups, ownership of smartphones has skyrocketed, up 35% from 2011. But only 20% choose to use their smartphones on-site at cultural organizations.
- The “selfie moment”: Of those who use smartphones on-site, the two most popular activities were taking photos (68%) and sharing photos (47%).
- Need for redefinition of loyalty models: Traditional loyalty models continue on a steep decline, 85% of visual arts audiences do not own any memberships, and 90% of performing arts audiences do not hold any subscriptions.
According to Arthur Cohen, “These findings reveal audiences that are restless, curious and ‘culturally promiscuous’—eager for new experiences they can share in person with friends and family. We have also learned that people rely above all on their emotions to tell them what those experiences might be, outside of traditional definitions of culture. If something enriches their senses, if it enlarges their world, and if they can do it in company they like, they are open to it. This is challenging news for institutions that are trying to retain the loyalty of audiences, but good news for organizations that are willing to listen to what the public has to say.”