When The Going Gets Tough

Adaptistration People 034Have you had the time to download and read the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) recent report When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance (A.K.A NEA Research Report #59)? It’s on my to-read list but I’ve been hearing from colleagues that it has some intriguing material related to socioeconomic status.

I’m looking forward to reading it given that genuine socioeconomic status considerations tend to get muddied with other equally relevant, closely aligned, yet mutually exclusive aspects when performing arts orgs discuss attendance barriers.

Have you read the report yet? If so, what did you think about the socioeconomic content? Did anything else in particular jump out at you?

Download a Copy of the Report (pdf)

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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2 thoughts on “When The Going Gets Tough”

  1. I haven’t read it cover to cover, but the report doesn’t appear to address alternative ways of obtaining access to arts as a potential explanation for the decline since 2002 (a decline that pre-dates the Great Recession of 2008-09). For classical music in particular, the availability of free music on YouTube, Pandora, etc., may play a role, compared to the cost and time involved in attending a live performance. For me personally, listening to recorded classical music doesn’t compare to the drama, energy, resonant sound, and visual impact of attending a live performance, but others may not view it that way. The decline in attendance at classical music concerts does appear to roughly parallel the advent of YouTube and Pandora.

  2. Audience development. Since I’m one of those people that should be going to the concerts (technically there, but working), I take it from the perspective of “what if I wasn’t working, why would/n’t I go?”

    My grand/parents’ generation, the ones in the concerts now:
    Had kids in their early/mid-20s. Careers were established by 25-27 with a solid upward track and homes purchased. By age 38-42, children were finishing high school/in college. You were almost a VP or in upper management. House halfway paid off and retirement well underway and secure.
    A night out for a concert – classical, pops, rock ‘n’ roll – was do-able. No sitter, solid disposable income. Heck, you may even be a low level donor.

    Skip to my generation:
    Not married / just had kids in 30s. Age 35 starting to see a solid upward track in your career – if you’re lucky. Couldn’t purchase a house until late 20s/early 30s – due to the crash/prices. Both parents work full time – child care and after care costs. Public school may be bad in your area, so your scrimping every dime of what in any other scenario would be a great income to afford a private school. You’re 38 with 2 kids under 7 years old, 6-7 years into a mortgage, students loans still have 5-8 years until paid off, disposable income is little to zippo and what you have goes into savings/retirement/an occasional vacation.

    Expect us back at age 48-52, when our lives look like our predecessors. Because $200+ to go out for a concert/dinner/sitter is not in the budget but maybe 2x a year.

    That’s where your audience is…at home. Watching PBS and Netflix, listening to Pandora because it’s what we can afford right now.

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