First Wave of Research Results on COVID’s Impact on Arts Audiences

by Simon Mallett

The Rozsa Foundation is one of the partners collaborating with Calgary-based research consulting firm Stone-Olafson to investigate audience attitudes and perceptions relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the experience economy in Alberta, which includes arts and culture. 


This research is being conducted in six waves over the course of the next year, and the first wave of results (based on surveys conducted between May 21 and June 2) are set to be released later this week. All of the results will be made freely available to anyone who signs up at https://www.stone-olafson.com/thenewexperienceeconomy


Having just received and reviewed the first wave results, I thought I’d share a few key takeaways and points that were of note to me. That said, I’d highly suggest anyone who is making decisions on behalf of arts and cultural organizations over the next year sign up to receive the full results as they become available in order to look at the numbers through your own organization’s lens.


One of the central themes that emerged is that audience comfort level, rather than stated intention or past behaviour, will dictate folks’ re-engagement with live experience-based events. This may not be a surprise, but it’s also interesting to note that there are a number of interesting figures relating to audience comfort level, including that 62% of respondents indicated that they are wary of interacting with strangers right now, and 30% acknowledged that they will only feel comfortable when a vaccine or cure is in place, with an additional 18% indicating they just need more time before attending activities again. 


As might be expected, attitudes around reengaging with live experiences are not universal. The research methodology includes a greater sample from Calgary and Edmonton, and rural audiences tend to seek a quicker reopening of the economy than those in urban environments. It’s also worth noting that arts and culture enthusiasts are among those who expressed they feel things are reopening too quickly, which may indicate that they will be slower to return once live programming is available again.


It’s also worth noting that this research is being done at a time when Alberta is being hit hard on multiple fronts, as 49% of respondents felt that the fluctuation of energy prices was a more serious factor than COVID-19, and the research also has some illuminating numbers around respondents’ income levels and how they have been impacted both by COVID and the uncertainty in the energy sector.


Finally, the recurring theme throughout the surveys is the strong desire respondents expressed to find ways to resume their social connections. Those interactions are what they miss most, what drive them to seek experiences, and what they largely find lacking in activities that are currently holding the place of their favourite live interactions. For those who continue to produce digital experiences, this is valuable to keep in mind in the design of online experiences that meet the needs of audiences.


Again, these are only a few of the notable pieces that emerged in the first wave, and the full results will be available this Thursday. To dive into the findings more fully, please visit https://www.stone-olafson.com/thenewexperienceeconomy to sign up and receive the full results.

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