This weekend as people are mobilizing their holiday shows and end of year fundraising campaigns, it seems appropriate to look to what motivates people to participate in the arts. Earlier this year the NEA expanded its analysis of the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the field to better understand the drivers behind various types of participation, from attendance to art-making. This study, entitled "When the Going Gets Tough," not only provides insight into what barriers affect different types of audiences, but also reveals that there is a significant core group of "interested non-attendees."
A core motivator for some is the social quality of attending an arts experience. This becomes an immediate barrier if someone does not have someone available to join them, affecting 22% of those surveyed. However, this social factor is not a driving force for non-Hispanic Blacks and African Americans. This cohort finds a significant motivation factor in supporting community based organizations and performances. The most common barrier to attendance stated was, not surprisingly, lack of time. This factor was particularly strong for parents with children. Arts organizations could consider partnering with organizations such as early-childhood learning centers to investigate solutions to this barrier.
Interested non-attendees, for those working in marketing, are the holy grail of audience development. And the good news is that this group is large: 13% of the surveyed population. Concern over high costs was the primary barrier for 33% of this cohort. The answer, however, for many organizations might not be 'free,' as evidence suggests free pricing does not always change the attendee patterns. Well-communicated and targeted lower-cost plans, however, could begin to move the 13%.
37% of interested non-attendees cited a difficulty getting to the space as a barrier. Recognizing this issue, many organizations are beginning to take their art out of their space and to other communities. However, this is not only an issue of geography, but also of time. Perhaps changing the time of an arts offering, for example, moving the beginning of an event to 6:30pm or perhaps 9pm, would provide different options for participation to interested non-attendees of various lifestyles. Organizations will need to test these options and others to see how their individual community reacts.
If you are wondering why people in your community don't attend your organization's work, review When the Going Gets Tough and begin making changes that might move interested non-attendees through the documented barriers.