Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Must Read

A review of “Inspecting Carol” showed up on the T-D website yesterday and the review of “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” is in today’s paper. Which is all great.

But right now I’m more transfixed by something else I’m reading. A comprehensive survey of Richmond arts patrons was done earlier this year and the results have been published by the firm Wolf Brown as the Richmond Cultural Census and are available online.

Not to be too overbearing about this but every arts professional in town should read this report. Of particular interest are the sections on live theater – and the news is NOT good. Here are two significant quotes from the report:

“Attending live stage plays or musical theatre productions was cited as “a vital activity” by less than 10% of all respondents and another 44% said that they ‘enjoy it occasionally’, a significantly lower proportion than expected based on previous cultural census studies in other cities.”

“The real story here, however, is the low percentage of respondents who cite going to stage plays and musicals as vital activities. In other areas, we have seen these figures as high as 20% to 25% 'vital activity.'"

I have to let this sink in a little bit since it contradicts many of my suppositions about theater in Richmond. I’ll probably have more cogent responses in a couple of days as these facts and figures rattle around my brain (and as I finally put to bed my graduate school paper). In the meantime, I’d be interested in what you all think out there in the blog-o-sphere.


Frank Creasy said...

Cause for concern, certainly. I'm not quite so quick to assign the "gloom and doom" banner, though clearly a number of folks don't find theatre (or other arts, per this study, except maybe dance) to be terribly relevant in their lives. So a slice of humble pie can't hurt us.

But while I don't use my sociology degree these days, I do know numbers can lie and tell different stories based on your perspective. The political arena demonstrates that point amply well.

Here's some of what I saw in the summary presentation (the 95-page PDF was a bit much for me):

- Only 17% said they are "not interested" in theatre. Others either attend at least occasionally or used to but don't any more (yes, begs the question as to why). But most folks ARE interested in theatre.
- Higher frequency attenders in theatre and other arts tend to be well educated, below 55 years old (73%), engaged in civic matters and likely to vote, and not rich by any means (most were well below six figure incomes). So the notion of arts only for the elite rich and for old folks seems to be a myth, according to this study.
- The survey captured far more folks in the city of Richmond (almost 60% of respondents) than in the surrounding suburbs. This may or may not skew the findings, but one does wonder how much support for the arts overall comes from outside the city limits. My gut reaction is quite a bit. I'm going to guess that Bruce and Phil may have some such data at their disposal for marketing purposes.

Finally, theatre participation in Richmond, though perhaps lower than other communities, seemed to be fairly on par with other arts activities in the area. I don't see a statistically significant difference in participation.

So, what I see is that there are quite a few folks who are interested in theatre even if they don't attend frequently; the more frequent attenders are well educated and engaged and younger than we assume; and a lack of awareness of theatre activity that is partially a barrier to more participation. Visibility of our art and ensuring its' relevance to our community are just a few keys to our success and vitality, it would seem to me.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

This survey is such bullshit. From the get-go. The demographic of the people that they surveyed is ridiculous!

70% are under the age of 54
Only 32% of the people have college degrees. Arts attendees are much more likely to have a Bachelor's degree or greater.

The largest zip codes that performing arts draw from in Richmond are not represented in this survey at all.

The biggie here is that it isn't a random sampling; it's self-selected.

It's almost absurd that this was even printed.

Anonymous said...

What interests me is something I've been pondering for a while--how theaters can reach young people in a PR way. I met a PR guy at a social occasion several months ago who told me about all the new media methods that can be used to reach young adults, and the fact that you pretty much need young adults to work this for you. Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc. It seems to me that this is the way to go, and that theaters could make use of smart young people to help them make this happen. Many of our local theaters don't even keep up their websites, which are probably volunteer efforts, but this might be essential for future survival.

Frank Creasy said...

Don't sugar coat it, BC, let us know what you REALLY think man!

He does make a good point that it is self selected, and many of the respondents were picked at public events, so the methodology is suspect, I'd agree. Not without any value, but suspect.

Rick St. Peter said...

"Since no theatre of any size ever played to more than two percent of it potential audience, you can stop worrying about being elitist."

Jon Jory