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A Massive Survey About the Arts in 2020 America
Episode 86
A Massive Survey About the Arts in 2020 America

CI to Eye with Arthur Cohen

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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In This Episode

Arthur and Erik dissect the findings from a new survey of more than 120,000 people to understand how the arts and culture fit into the lives of Americans during these uncertain times.

Erik Gensler: Arthur, thank you so much for joining me.

Arthur Cohen: Yes, it’s a pleasure. Good to see you, Erik.

Erik Gensler: So, let’s just maybe start off, talk a little bit about who you surveyed and why.

Arthur Cohen: The cultural sector is really rudderless right now because the rules keep changing. We’ve never been in a moment like this. The level of uncertainty and related level of anxiety is so high that when we had thought about going into the Culture Track sequence this year—which we do every three years or so and we were heading up to a Culture Track year—we decided that if we were going to do it this year, we had to do it in a very different way and that is that we had to do it in a way that was just responsive to the really unique character of the moment and the pressing need that people have just for some reliable source of information as a reference. So, along with our great research colleagues who are Chicago-based, Slover Linett, who you probably come in contact with—they serve a lot of the cultural world as well.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, we can shout out Peter, who’s been on the podcast, so … great episode.

Arthur Cohen: Brilliant partner that, along with their firm, we kind of conceived of a much more ambitious endeavor. And to give you a point of comparison, we’ve done seven Culture Tracks before this. The first one was actually triggered by 9/11. So, it’s not like we’re-

Erik Gensler: Oh, wow.

Arthur Cohen: … strangers to adversity, but it was born of the same kind of idea of necessity that the world just changed, everyone’s compass just broke. What do we do? So, Peter and I decided we would go very big in terms of trying to have a really large sample that was extremely collaborative, both in the funding model—seeking out a number of enlightened funders who would work on this collaboratively with the Wallace Foundation kind of taking the lead and other foundations, such as Art bridges, the Barr Foundation, and Terra all coming in at a really, really important moment and working together, perhaps, to a degree that hadn’t happened before. And that, similarly, we would ask cultural organizations around the country to share with us their lists, whether they’re single-ticket buyers, subscribers, members, visitors, event attenders, et cetera, so that we could go really big. And we wound up getting this enormous response. Essentially, no organization said no. We had, I think, 652 organizations across the country, from a community art center to the Metropolitan Opera and everything in between. And that enabled us to generate a online survey that was completed by 122,000 people. This is certainly the most ambitious and far-ranging study of its kind that really, I think, got an in-depth view of kind of the hearts and minds of audiences. And, effectively, what we want to know is pretty simple: What are you feeling? What are you thinking about? What are you doing? What are you missing? What are you worrying about? And as we move towards post-quarantine periods—which again, I don’t even know if we’re in one now, for example—but as we think about a future reality where we’re not limited by quarantine and where organizations are able to reopen, we really wanted to probe what we thought was a reasonable way of asking about this issue that we call intentionality. You know, what do you intend to do in the future? And one of the things we learned is, intentionality and desire are two very different things. And that was one of the things that we unearthed, just, not only how people are feeling and thinking and what they’re doing, how they’re living online, et cetera; they might desire to participate in many things, but whether they actually are converting that into a commitment to take action and reenter the market is a really different question.

Erik Gensler: The report talks about a cautious return, with only 69% of people having done little-to-no planning for future arts or cultural experiences, which is different from some of the other data we’ve seen around this topic and does it go back to what you’re saying?

Arthur Cohen: Yeah, and I think that’s … you know, I’ve seen that other data, too, and I always ask people to be really cautious about it because if someone asked you three months before … I don’t know, let’s say in January, if people asked you what you would be doing culturally atthe end of March, that would have been completely unreliable data because there’s so many unforeseen things that have occurred and we’re not out of the unforeseen woods. So, again, me asking you, “Would you like to go back to a theater? Could you see yourself going back in a month or three months?” and getting a number to that is not the same as you waking up that day and saying, “You know what? I’m going to get up and go.” One of the anecdotal things that I’ve been thinking, that we’ve heard, that I think is extremely revealing is, some of the places that have reopened, like museums, even if they’re free, they’re doing, of course, to limit attendance, to live in crowd density, they’re doing time tickets online. And what they’re reporting are some of the highest rates of no-shows they’ve ever seen. And I think that’s because when you wake up that day, you’re not the same person as you were three days ago, when you went online and said, “You know what? I really want to do this,” because the reality of being in this uncertain environment and the risk associated with it kind of hits you and a different thing kicks in and that’s intentionality. That’s why I’m really leery about any measurement now about future behavior.

Erik Gensler: Even in the performing arts, where tickets are more expensive, you’re committing to a specific date and time. I wonder if that’s going to translate, where people think they’re ready to go back to the theater and then they can’t or won’t. And I think it really makes a lot of sense around uncertainty in this moment and how you feel today is not necessarily the same as how you’re going to feel tomorrow. That’s really super interesting.

Arthur Cohen: And, also, when it moves from conceptual to real. Imagine, for example, all these parents are thinking about what they’re going to do with their kids this fall. And so far, it’s been this kind of theoretical, stupidly politicized conversation about physical reopening, but I’ve actually started speaking to parents because they’re cultural consumers, too. And they’re just telling us that they have no way of mapping out their lives this fall cause they don’t know what it’s going to be like on, whatever, September 1st or something, the first day the kids are supposed to be back, and whether they’re going to wake up that day and—if their school has reopened—whether they will have the confidence to send those kids into those environments. And if they don’t reopen, how do they need to create the plan for the next phase of their life to balance their obligations to their family with their other work and social obligations, et cetera? So, this is a really big issue. You know, again, the crisis we’re having is obviously a dual crisis of both social conscience and racism as it is a health crisis. But what fuels both of them is this notion of uncertainty that no one knows where any of these things are going. And the fact that it has been not only nonlinear, but alinear, meaning we’ve seen, for example, cultural organizations in Texas open and then reclose. Imagine what that does for your level of confidence. If you were among that group that was thinking about being the first or among the first to go back, you didn’t do it. And then, you saw that they reclosed, that is going to be one further anxious, anxiety-making variable that’s going to enter into that decision and affect intentionality.

Erik Gensler: You brought up a lot of interesting points and I want to go back to one. A theme throughout the research indicates high scores for anything involving children. And perhaps this, you know, people saying that they’ve engaged with a lot of activities online that is content for kids and, perhaps, this reflects parents going crazy in locked-down households with small children. I’m curious what your conclusions were around those high marks.

Arthur Cohen: I think it was a combination of that. I think there’s some other things, too. All the stuff that you said, I certainly think it’s the idea of, like, “I gotta serve up some stuff to keep these kids busy and occupied, and hopefully in a constructive way.” But I also think that digital is kind of the “spoonful of sugar” vehicle for a lot of this stuff. You know, every kid that’s born today is a digital native and the idea of exposing them or encouraging them to access content digitally is probably a lot less challenging than going to other mediums that they might not be as facile in and receptive to. So, I think it’s a combination of, kind of, supply and demand. Yeah, I need the stuff that, for example, digital offers to keep my kids occupied, but the kids also have a greater interest, appetite, comfort level with it, and therefore, it’s not surprising to see that that turns out to be a very, kind of, active segment of activity, in terms of what parents are doing with kids at home, using digital content and digital resources.

Erik Gensler: A little more than half of people surveyed indicated they participated in one or more digital cultural activities during the lockdown and the report outlines what those are. There are a few interesting things I thought that came away from that. For me, I thought what made the participation valuable to them, which is something you asked, was certainly worth noting, the idea of connection and learning.

Arthur Cohen: Yeah, I think connection, Erik, is probably the biggest meta-theme that presents itself in so many different lines of inquiry in our study. I mean, we are … It is a cliche to say, but it’s of course true: we’re social animals. And when you take away our ability to be social with one another, we feel it. We feel it on a visceral level and we miss it a lot. What’s interesting is that digital has presented itself as an opportunity for connection in a socially distancing world and is likely to become only more so, perhaps beyond the point when it’s the only channel we have, even when we can go back to physical, offline, analog, whatever we’re calling these experiences now. I think we’re just in a new world and a new level where the connection that you and I are having right now, it’s not a hundred percent as satisfying as a physical connection, but it’s a lot better than no connection. We can be together to a degree that we were never able to be together when we physically didn’t have these limitations on us. And I think we’re just learning that this is another type of social experience that our brains are a little bit catching up with. It’s not without its challenges and fatigue, but it is a really important point of connection. And it is, I think, addressing a really fundamental, you know, Maslow kind of need for just having some point of contact with others.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and it’ll be interesting for cultural organizations to grapple with the, what are going to, I think, just be really challenging use of their resources to continue to build on, perhaps, what people come to expect around more digital content, more digital connection, while maintaining their in-person connection. You talked about expanding audiences. I know a lot of organizations—and it even showed them the study—that a lot of the people engaging with organizations, content had never been to that particular organization or that type of organization, which I thought was fascinating.

Arthur Cohen: Yeah, I mean, not only that, but we actually have some supplemental research that’s starting to indicate that the people who are accessing cultural content online and have not physically been to those places, as you say, also tend to be much more diverse than the physical audiences that are coming. So, in terms of an audience development tool or channel, almost every organization now not only has more audience as one of the goals, but also different audience, you know, having a more audience that’s more representative of the diversity of the communities they serve. And so, it is possible … The kind of cliche that I’m using these days is that digital might possibly be the way to erase threshold from threshold fear. You know, if there have been perceived obstacles to participating as a physical experience, which are generally because you don’t feel included or invited, don’t see people like you participating, don’t think it’s for you, feel that it’s somehow coded in a way that you have to crack open and don’t know how, these are all threshold fear drivers. They seem to dissipate online because it’s just you and the content and your decision to access it. So, that’s kind of really interesting to us. And I know, you and I’ve spoken about this, but the people who are deep into the digital world, you know, who are working at some of the major software and hardware companies, are viewing this moment as an accelerant. It’s not like any of these factors didn’t occur before, but they are now increasing and being adopted with a speed and rapidity that no one had anticipated. So, the kinds of things they thought would happen in changing digital/social behaviors a few years from now, they’re all happening now, out of necessity. But again, once this is out of the box, it’s not going back.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, I keep saying, it really forced us in to the 21st century in a way that we were sort of creeping our way into.

Arthur Cohen: Yeah, and, admittedly, at least in some sectors of the cultural world been creeping our way into it reluctantly and almost resentfully. You know, there was a sense that if it isn’t the analog, physical experience, it is secondary, less-than, and not somehow real or authentic. And I am as much an advocate for that authentic moment of contact between audience and actor, between visitor and art object as anyone, but I feel this is a different thing. You know, it’s not like this is replacing it. This is a parallel reality that is emerging, and I think one that a lot of established cultural organizations have been not necessarily a part of the ascent of and are now catching up with.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and it’ll be interesting to see how they choose to engage when forced to manage both. And I think it’s a real challenge because there’s real costs and investment and skill required to do both, in a way that I think a lot of reluctance has been around, maybe just not having resources or … The pain wasn’t enough to force the switch and now, people have gotten the skills or they’ve seen what’s possible and now they’re going to have to go back. And I’m really fascinated to see how that sort of hybrid model evolves. The example we keep using is sports teams, right? You watch a baseball game or you go to a baseball game.

Arthur Cohen: So, insert museum or theater name here, you’re really good at defining who you are based on who you have been physically, but what does that mean in terms of how you express your mission and your core purpose in your online presence? Before you get to any of the kind of mechanics of it, you have to, I think be really, really clear on what that persona is and what the experience needs to do in conveying the essence of what your organization is about. So, to me, that’s a lot of the work ahead for many organizations. I find it very exciting because, even in moments of devastation, there’s always opportunity

Erik Gensler: I want to turn back to something else that really grabbed me from the report and it was the statistic around only 13% of respondents reporting that they paid for cultural content during the lockdown. And this is something a lot of organizations, particularly early on, were really focused on and, I think, still really are. How do we monetize our content? How do we make money in a way when people can’t gather? And I think some organizations took the route of saying, “We’re just not going to try,” and some have not tried and still had success, where they did an event and they found donations going up. And some have been very active and aggressive in building monetize digital programming. I think there’s a lot to dissect around that, but … And I also thought, like, 13% may seem small, but in a way like 13% of the larger US population doing that, I thought, was actually pretty significant!

Arthur Cohen: Yeah. I mean, I definitely see it glass-half-full there, too, Erik. I would say a couple things about it. First of all, for those who are saying, “Well, how can I do that? Don’t look at the audience; look at yourself. You know, because I think … I have yet to kind of perfect this formulation, so bear with me, but I feel that the issue of the ability to monetize is intricately intertwined with the notion of brand equity and perceived brand value, that you’re willing to pay more for a branded experience that you believe in and trust as opposed to, “Oh, here’s Cultural Organization X that’s always been serving up this free stuff and now they gated it and I have to pay for it. But you know what? That makes me wonder how much I really cared about them anyway, so I’m not gonna do that.” Right? One of the interesting things about that statistic, the 13%, is that people view it as a challenge because it means, obviously, that 87% are not paying for cultural content online. However, it is an aggregated number and I’ve actually … Just this morning, I looked at a visual arts organization where the number was 30% for its audiences. We actually spoke to a really wonderful performing arts organization where the number was 40% and that’s because it has real brand presence and the idea of paying for cultural content from a brand platform that you believe in and also feel can give you either access or quality or both that you can’t get through other branded experiences, that’s the path, right? What’s really hard is that a lot of, you know, cultural organizations that, perhaps, have had whatever different perceptions about the role of digital versus analog and, therefore, haven’t viewed this as opportunities for monetization or having done the work around that in terms of brand development, they’re finding that there’s a lot of resistance to it. One of the corollaries of that statistic you mentioned is that when you ask people where they’re going for content, for cultural content online, generally speaking, far and away, the largest source of cultural content that people are accessing—at least those that we spoke to—were the performers or the arts entities themselves, right? And that’s not surprising because if Josh Bell or Nora Jones wants to do an Instagram Live or continuous YouTube series and it’s just them, that feels very, kind of, pure and very unmediated in a way that I find very appealing. I imagine many others do, as well. So, the question is, “Where’s the value-add opportunity for the presenter, for the person who’s serving up that experience?” And I think, again, right now, it varies based on their relative, kind of, brand positions. There is an indication that you might even try something or some kind of performance or a cultural content based on the supplier, as opposed to based on the performer or the artist, if you really trusted it. The classic example of that has always been, like, The Public Theater, this idea that you kind of go along with The Public Theater for the journey, even if it’s a season of things you’ve never heard of before, because their track record’s so great and they’re so cool and all this kind of stuff. So, I imagine there is a digital analog to that experience of, kind of, really building the equity of the brand as conferring something onto the cultural content that the provider or artist or creator couldn’t do on their own, that elevates the appeal and therefore makes it more desirable, potentially, to be monetized.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and I thought that was such an important thing to consider, as someone who works in a cultural institution, which is the power dynamics of needing an arts organization to pick you, to present you, to say that you’re the one, when people can now go directly to the performer … is a precarious place for an arts organization to be because you’re easily passed over in this moment in a way where a performer doesn’t need a physical space to gather, doesn’t need a thousand seats or doesn’t need a gallery with ushers and whatever else, air conditioning. So, I think that’s … it reminds me … Henry Timms, the new president of Lincoln Center wrote that New Power book. That statistic was a very “new power” moment to me. So, it’s not, like, top-down, old power of, like, “We picked you. This is what you should watch,” but it’s like real power from the people, power from the artists.

Arthur Cohen: Yeah, and I think that’s a really interesting, kind of, visualization of this, that it’s emanating from the bottom-up as opposed to—if the culture organization, which it shouldn’t be, is on the top—top-down. All of that, I think, that whole construct is soon to be passed over. But yes, that the idea of an anointing process from the cultural organization to the performer or the artist, that definitely seems to be questioned. I wouldn’t write it off entirely, though. I’m thinking of an experience I had just this morning, I’m a big fan of the Tiny Desk Concerts. I don’t know if you watch them too.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Arthur Cohen: And they just released the … There was a contest for an unknown performer and they did a Tiny Desk New Artist of the Year and I watched the winner of that this morning. And, you know, as this young woman—who I would never have come in contact through any other way, unless I was lucky enough to know someone who happened upon one of her YouTube videos or something—and I was drawn to her by the power of the platform, as well as the fact that the power of the platform has a backlist that a performer on their own cannot create. You know, Adele’s been on that. Recently, Alicia Keys was on Tiny Desk Concerts, in addition to all these kind of young, more independent artists. And the combination of that platform, the imprimatur gives me to want to see who this new person is. I still buy that and that is still persuasive to me. Now, what will I do with it next? Will I start searching for her own posts and things? I might, but it doesn’t diminish my affection for and perceived value around the Tiny Desk platform,

Erik Gensler: Right, in this case, they’re The Public Theater, right? They’re the brand you trust.

Arthur Cohen: Exactly.

Erik Gensler: You explore the essentialism of the arts and I totally agree that is critical for arts organizations to be essential to people in communities. And the findings show that while 61% of people can identify the financial struggles of arts organizations, the majority of people believe that they should support other types of nonprofits before the arts and the report lists human services, religion, health, the environment … and even more so than before COVID. What does that part of the research say to you?

Arthur Cohen: That’s tough stuff. You know, that’s never the happy part of the conversation when you’re talking to an arts organization, particularly if you’re talking to a development officer, but it does, I think, speak to a fundamental truth and maybe using that same construct of, kind of, bottom-up audience-generated reality, which is that the value proposition around culture is simply not as strong as the value proposition is for most of those other areas. You can’t really compare culture to health and human services. And in this country, you can’t compare it to religion and you can’t compare it to other causes, in terms of the implied imperative to support it. It’s still there happily, but perhaps waningly a little bit in this moment. You know, what you saw from the pre-/post-COVID measure around that dynamic, in terms of people’s perception that this is an organization or a category of organizations that merits your financial support, or rather that other organizations deserve it more, is that culture got bumped down a little bit. It’s about the same; slightly lower, and what got moved up was health, not surprisingly. Value proposition: people are hurting, we’re in a health crisis, I’m going to help health organizations. So, there’s a lot of things that this speaks to. It speaks to, perhaps, certain limitations, Erik, but I think it also speaks to a more directional evolution that cultural organizations I believe are going to be encountering, which is that the idea of a cultural organization being one thing and a community center—let’s call it a center of community, which I think is a slightly different thing—is something else. I think these two models will converge and I feel that those organizations that are able to navigate that convergence effectively will, in so doing, trigger a different value proposition and perhaps move up the list. There’s philosophical reasons to do it, but it turns out, there’s also kind of a business imperative behind it, as well.

Erik Gensler: It was something I saw early on in the pandemic, which was that you sort of have to move down the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs. And I think a lot of cultural organizations position themselves as the top of the pyramid. You go to the opera if you’re completely self-actualized, right? And, to me, this says, like, that’s against the model of essentialism. It’s sort of “No, let’s move down the hierarchy of needs.” (laughs)

Arthur Cohen: I remember Maslow quite well. I think I was a psychology major at one point. And it’s a misread of that, of the construct. The construct is, you don’t get to the top of the pyramid until you’ve earned your way there. So, if we’re now down at other more fundamental levels of needs, just to say that you can speak to the highest self-actualization ones is not actually what the point, I believe, is. The point is that we’re not in a moment of self-actualization. We’re in a moment of survival.

Erik Gensler: Right, right.

Arthur Cohen: We’re in a moment of trying to address fundamental losses of being centered, this profound sense of dislocation and disconnection. So, we don’t even have the luxury of thinking about self-actualization yet. So, if that’s where culture lives—or the highest promise of culture, the greatest promise—that’s not a good place to be.

Erik Gensler: I saw that in the report around you identifying the changes that respondents want to see and I actually pulled that out to talk to you about. People wanted to see organizations supporting local artists, being friendlier to all kinds of people, treating employees fairly and equitably. To me, this goes back to the idea that, you know, it’s Mark Schaefer’s—the guy who wrote the book, the Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins. These are … They want organizations to have an ethical persona. They want them to be part of the community, to be ethical to their employees, to their community, to all kinds of people.

Arthur Cohen: I think that that’s true. I think, however, that there’s a temporal quality to this, Erik, which is that that human persona could be defined as “X” in the pre-George Floyd moment. And now, it will be defined as “Y.” I think the bar has been raised. Awareness has moved to a new level of acceptance. As someone who knows way more about this than I do said to me, “The struggle is not new. The injustice is not new. The only thing that’s different right now is that the level of active awareness and determination to do something about it seems to have gone to a new place and, as such, the set point for what constitutes a human and moral organization has shifted.

Erik Gensler: Fascinating, and I think that’s spot-on, which actually leads me right into the next question, which is, you set up the survey before the murder of George Floyd and the protests and activism. It must’ve been challenging cause the world shifted from the time you asked a lot of these questions to the time you published this first report.

Arthur Cohen: Well, two things about that. One is, you’re right. Our survey concluded on May 19th, which is literally just before. So, because our survey was so rich and so big, we still had thousands and thousands of people, for example, who self-identified as Black or African-American and we’re able to do slices, able to look at responses for that self-identified population, versus other populations, and saw, for example, the disproportionate negative impact the COVID crisis was having on their health and income. So, some of the fundamental factors were evident even then, but that said, it is clear to us as we now plan on our second wave of research, which will occur in the fall, that the social and racial justice line of inquiry, the idea of being extremely diligent, more so than ever before, in terms of the voices that are going to be represented in our study, the way we’re going to be asking the questions, the topics we will ask are absolutely going to be driven by that because this is the new defining reality or crisis—on top of this preexisting health crisis—that now converge into an unprecedented moment of disruption. We have a mapping, at least an initial mapping, of many things related to the health crisis. But the work ahead is to focus, now, on these areas that we have not mapped with the same degree of intentionality because the world wasn’t exactly the same when we asked the questions.

Erik Gensler: Right. I’m going to end with some, some bigger picture questions and the first is, what did you find encouraging from, from the staff?

Arthur Cohen: I found a couple of things encouraging. First of all, I love that chart that talked about the way people want organizations to change. The fact that they would have an opinion and actively be offering the kinds of things they want to see happen means they care, right? It means they are not indifferent to the world of arts and culture and that they actually want to work with cultural organizations to be part of that recalibration. So, I actually found that super encouraging. I found a lot of the digital stuff very encouraging too, because it means that there is this huge appetite for cultural content and that people will go through whatever channels are available to them to find it and they’re becoming more and more resourceful in getting to it. So, yeah, the monetization percentages aren’t where we need them to be. They’re not going to as many direct cultural organizations as opposed to artists and performers, but everything’s moving in a direction that attests to, if anything, an increased appetite for these kinds of content and this kind of experience, however, it is served up, which is really interesting because organizations, to be relevant, have to be organic and have to evolve. And even if they’re collections-based or performance-based, live performance-based, that is a platform, it is not an endpoint. And so, what I find encouraging is thinking about how the platform gets expanded as the realities of the way people are experiencing these things shift because, clearly, the demand is there. And I guess the final thing I would point out as an area of particular encouragement is it’s, you know, people still care about culture. We didn’t see any real declines. In fact, we saw general upticks when we asked the fundamental question, “Pre- versus during COVID, how important do you think arts and cultural organizations are?” So, there wasn’t a big erosion in that number, which means that it’s pretty vibrant. And what’s interesting to us, we did a New York report recently and we did run that same number for New York. And I think the national number was, was quite … it’s not surprising. It’s a fairly low number overall. You might be looking at it now. But for New York, the number was astronomical. It was, like, in the 8 percentage range. And it had declined a little bit from pre-COVID when it was, like, 91; I think it went to 83. But that still means the vast majority of people in major areas really care about culture. How they’re expressing that support and that interest, that’s all moving and shifting right now. But I do find it—and maybe cause I’m fundamentally an optimist, which is something to say at a moment like this (laughs). I think you gotta be—I do find it to be a source of encouragement because people value this stuff. They need it. When you ask them what they’re missing, beyond connection, it’s the idea of this sense of contact with something. You know, the sense of shared experience around cultural moments is profoundly important to people and they haven’t forgotten it and they’re really hoping to reconnect with it, so I see that as quite promising.

Erik Gensler: What about discouraging?

Arthur Cohen: Well, discouraging, I think what we were talking about before, the value proposition part, you know, the relative strength of the idea of supporting the arts is still really low and I think it’s because we’re coming out of a very traditional model, perhaps born of this self-selecting who our targets are and focusing on a very narrow, perhaps very privileged, subset of the world, as opposed to trying to make the case to a broader world in a way that is more broadly relevant. I think that is kind of inheriting the sins of the past, when we see low numbers for the number of people who want us to financial support the art, while at the same time, knowing that they need it. It’s not enough to just know it. There has to be a compelling reason why, and especially in comparison, as we noted to the social services, you know, the value proposition is just not strong right now. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. And I think that’s going to be a challenge.

Erik Gensler: So, we’ve come to your final question and we call this your “CI to Eye moment,” and the question is, if you could, based on this data and research, say something to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of thousands of arts leaders, what advice would you leave them with to help them improve their businesses during this time?

Arthur Cohen: Understand the singularity of this crisis. It’s not like a war. It’s not like 9/11. It’s not like any of the tragedies that we’ve dealt with, which had the ability to be both tragic and somehow, at the same time, a bit remote. One of the things that we lead with in this data is just how ubiquitous and how viscerally direct the impact of the health crisis has been on cultural organizations, visitors, and subscribers and audiences. How many people have had, directly attributable to the COVID crisis, reductions or eliminations in income? How many people, either they themselves or a loved one or a family member, have been sick from COVID? The fact that this is a different crisis because it is so immediately, viscerally, personalized and experienced and it is driven by anxiety and uncertainty. We’re not in the linear world right now. So, it’s not a comforting thought, necessarily, just so much as an acknowledgement of the structural reality of this situation, is that being okay, able to ride through a series of events that no one can control at this point, as opposed to the thing that we want to do most, which is to make a plan, to figure out the staff and the program requirements and the budget behind it and all that kind of stuff … You just have to be able to be very flexible right now and the only way that I’ve seen that seems reasonably effective at doing that is having a number of scenarios at the ready, to respond to these changes as they occur.

Erik Gensler: Arthur Cohen, thank you so much.

Arthur Cohen: Erik Gensler, it is my privilege and a delight to be seeing you and joining you for this podcast. So, thanks for inviting me.

About Our Guests
Arthur Cohen
Arthur Cohen
Founder & CEO, LaPlaca Cohen

Arthur Cohen is the Founder and CEO of LaPlaca Cohen. He oversees the company’s research project, Culture Track, an ongoing study tracking the shifting attitudes and behaviors of cultural audiences in the United States.

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