As arts managers plan for the reopening of performance spaces, one of the major challenges facing them will be attracting audiences back. A new survey has found that patrons overwhelmingly intend to return to arts and cultural events in the future, with nine out of 10 respondents saying they will be back. However, 96 percent said that safety measures will affect how soon they will be ready to return.

The Audience Outlook Monitor found that 22 percent of respondents are comfortable with returning as soon as restrictions are lifted, 67 percent will attend when they deem the risk of transmission to be minimal, while 11 percent won’t consider returning until there is no risk at all.

Those most likely to stay away until there is no risk included people living with a disability, those who attend the arts less than once a year, those aged over 65, and those who are retired or unemployed.

One of the ghost lights installed by the Sydney Opera House in each of its theatres during COVID-19. Photograph © Daniel Boud

The survey found that 78 percent of respondents plan to attend as often as they did before COVID-19, while seven percent said that they will attend even more often. The vast majority – 93 percent – will be interested in the same kinds of events that they used to attend before COVID-19, with little appetite for new art that reflects on the crisis, though a quarter wanted work that would help them make sense of it.

The Audience Outlook Monitor is being delivered in Australia by research agencies Patternmakers in Sydney and WolfBrown in the US, in collaboration with six government agencies – the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, Create NSW, Arts Queensland, Department of the Premier and Cabinet (South Australia) and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (Western Australia).

Over 23,000 respondents from 159 organisations contributed to the survey, which was conducted in May. The organisations – which included museums, galleries, performing arts organisations and festivals from across Australia – sent out the survey to a random sample of their audiences.

The results showed that smaller venues for 50 people or less are the most likely to attract audiences in the near future with 62 percent saying they would be “very comfortable” or at least “somewhat comfortable” if they were open now and following relevant safety guidelines. For venues seating 100, 14 percent said they would be “very comfortable” and 30 percent said they would be “somewhat comfortable” with attending today. However, only seven percent would be “very comfortable” attending venues seating 1000 or more. For the time being, outdoor programming may be more viable than indoor programming.

When it came to museums and galleries, 88 percent said they would be at least “somewhat comfortable” with attending.

The survey found that safety measures will make a big difference in attracting audiences back. Most people felt encouraged by measures such as disinfecting public areas (89 percent) and providing hand sanitiser (89 percent). There was also support for social distancing with 83 percent supporting patrons being seated apart. However, 27 percent said they would be discouraged from attending if masks had to be worn, while 11 percent said they would be discouraged if there was mandatory temperature testing at entries to the venue.

Adrian Collette, Chief Executive of the Australia Council said: “Creativity will be vital to our national recovery as we seek to bring life back into our cities and regions. This research provides valuable and promising insights into the future of the cultural and creative sector, while highlighting the initial challenges in encouraging audiences to return to live experiences.”

“It will be cultural experiences that will have people hitting the road for domestic tourism, and the shared experiences of live performances and public events that will draw us back into our urban and regional centres and their restaurants, bars and cafes. This will play a critical role in boosting consumer confidence overall.”

The Audience Outlook Monitor will collect data again in July and September, to track how audience sentiment is changing as conditions change and people are allowed to resume gathering in larger groups.

For more information visit the Audience Outlook Monitor website