Top Takeaways from Culture Track '17

If you don't already know about Culture Track, the pro bono national research study of the changing behaviors of cultural audiences produced by LaPlaca Cohen, it is truly my pleasure to introduce it to you. Since Culture Track began in 2001, the LaPlaca Cohen team has fielded research on societal engagement with arts and culture seven times, most recently in 2017. 

There are so many valuable findings in Culture Track '17 - here are my top takeaways, which I have supplemented with direct quotes from the study.

1) The definition of culture has changed.

Since 2014, the last time Culture Track was published, the study's researchers note that "significant shifts in the social, political, digital, and media landscapes have fundamentally changed the way that audiences are defining and consuming culture." That statement rings especially true in the context of the political events of the past year or so.

They continue, "For today’s audiences, the definition of culture has democratized even further, possibly to the point of extinction. Activities that have traditionally been considered culture and those that haven’t are now on a level playing field, with audiences torn about whether the label 'culture' is even applicable. For instance, more than a third of art museumgoers did not think art museums were a cultural experience, and over half of theatergoers felt the same. In fact, audiences were more likely to consider a street fair or food and drink experience culture than an opera or ballet."


2) Motivations for cultural participation have changed.

"For culture to matter, it must enable people to find or make meaning. At this particular socio-political moment, reducing stress, providing fun, and offering perspective are pre-conditions for this to happen."

3) Analog is making a comeback in cultural settings.

We have all probably noticed the increasing ubiquity of digital experiences in museums and cultural attractions. And it's clear that technology isn't going anywhere; but the Culture Track researchers point out that "this represents a great opportunity for identifying how and if technology can truly enhance and deepen the cultural experience in ways that nothing else can—making the future of digital in cultural experiences about much more than a shiny new device or an app."

Another great quote: "Therefore, when exploring a new digital strategy or initiative, organizations should start by asking questions such as: Is this enriching, or distracting? Does this simplify the experience, or make it more complicated? Most importantly, does this feel authentic to who we are and how our audiences engage with us?"

The top reasons why analog appeals in cultural activities include:  it feels more authentic, more focus on the activity, it's less complicated, audiences can better connection to content.

4) To earn loyalty, cultural institutions need to foster trust.

"Importantly, audiences value not only how organizations treat them, but also how they impact the rest of the world. The most common reason audiences said they would be motivated to join a loyalty program had nothing to do with discounts, perks, or convenience; it had to do with supporting a good cause. Regardless of an organization’s main focus, when it comes to building loyalty, making a case for impact or corporate social responsibility is a key ingredient."

5) Along the same lines, impact matters.

"The top reasons for donating to culture all have to do with social impact. Donors believe in the very real and indelible mark these organizations make. And, in fact, when you look at the reasons why audiences do not donate to culture, the same considerations apply—they donate to organizations that they believe have the greatest impact, and they don’t believe that cultural organizations  fit the bill.

When you look at the causes that audiences donate to the most—at much higher rates than cultural organizations—they are ones with clear, measurable, and tangible impacts, like health, education, and humanitarian relief.

With social impact as the main driver of donations, cultural organizations need to work harder to measure and then articulate what their distinct impact is. This becomes more and more important as organizations’ philanthropic core ages, and the need for an influx of new donors is more pressing."


6) Audiences want to see culture intersect with other important social issues.

"Millennials are uniquely interested in human rights and equality, where their giving doubles that of Gen X, Baby Boomers, and Pre-Wars. People of color are similarly committed to these issues, being 44% more likely to donate to human rights causes and 71% more likely to donate to equality organizations than non-Hispanic Caucasians. It is therefore increasingly important to focus on culture’s role in sparking social change and engaging in civil and human rights."

7) Corporate sponsorship of culture can be mutually beneficial, and there is a strong argument for corporate support of culture, but the onus is on cultural organizations to better articulate the benefits.

"As the competition for contributed dollars becomes more and more fierce, cultural organizations need to better articulate the business benefits of sponsorship to corporations. When approaching potential sponsors, organizations can assert that cultural consumers feel positively about corporations who sponsor culture: 58% say they feel good about doing business with corporations that support cultural organizations, 50% say that they’re more likely to buy from those corporations, and 46% say they’re more likely to listen to their message."

I highly recommend a deep dive into the study for more gems of knowledge - enjoy!

Natalie Lemle