Arts Council Malta has launched a new research study investigating the changing relationship between Public Cultural Organisations and audiences to cultural events in light of the ever-changing public health situation over the past months.
Changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020 have altered the landscape of cultural activity, bringing to the fore new considerations related to attendance to public gatherings. The nature of these concerns, and the extent to which they continue to shape attitudes and behaviours of potential audiences are as yet unknown. Likewise, the longer-term effects on the cultural and creative sector of the disruption brought about by the COVID-19 situation is unclear.
The overall objective of this study is to shed light on these issues by developing a broader and more comprehensive understanding of how and to what extent audience perceptions and behaviours are changing, as well as how Public Cultural Organisations can be be better equipped to face such changes brought about by the COVID-19 situation.
The study is composed of two strands:
The study will take place over a four-month period. The findings of the study will be used to provide Public Cultural Organisations with recommendations on how to further strengthen their ongoing audience engagement, and strategically explore new forms of growth.
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First results of the research studies
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has raised countless questions about its impact on the artists and creatives, and, more specifically, on their audiences. How has the pandemic changed audiences’ desire to participate in cultural events? Have audiences found new ways in which to consume cultural activity, turning more towards online viewership at a time when physical gatherings are limited? Will we see new patterns of attendance emerge once the pandemic has subsided?
These are amongst the questions driving an ongoing study being carried out by Arts Council Malta investigating the changing relationship between Public Cultural Organisations and audiences to cultural events in light of the ever-changing public health situation over the past months. The first of three surveys provides some initial indications to help the creative sector address these questions.
This telephone survey was carried out amongst 540 respondents throughout the months of November and December 2020. The survey sample was representative of the general population.
During the initial lockdown period (March-May 2020), the most followed online events were theatre performances (9%) and concerts/music performances (9%), with a further 9% and 7% respectively expressing an interest in viewing online performances in these fields in the future. On the whole, respondents tended to follow online events fairly equally on local and international websites/platforms, although respondents between the ages of 25-34 and 55-64 indicated a slight preference towards viewing on local websites/platforms. Online viewership was generally highest for 35-44 age group, but interest in viewing cultural activity online in the future was highest amongst younger age groups (18-24 and 25-34).
Once the initial lockdown was eased in June 2020 and physical gatherings came back into being, physical attendance to cultural events remained negligible, with respondents showing little inclination to attend in-person events over the next six months. This was the case across all forms of cultural activity, with the many respondents expressing an intention to wait for a vaccine to be administered before returning to in-person events. 32% of all respondents cited “having a vaccine” as a key factor in enticing them to return to physical cultural activity. Other factors frequently mentioned included “enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions” (17%) and “restricted audience sizes” (8%).
These findings indicate that online participation is here to stay, regardless of the pandemic, with 53% of respondents expect their online participation to increase or stay the same in the future, even once the pandemic ends.
There are also indications that several respondents would be receptive to different payment models for online cultural activity. 12% are willing to give a donation upon viewing an online performance, 10% are willing to pay through a pay per view system, and 7% are willing to pay towards a yearly subscription model for online cultural events.
The study’s respondents were also aware of the need to financially support the local cultural sector – over a third of respondents (34%) agreed that they are willing to pay for events that were previously free, and 31% are willing to pay a higher-than-average ticket price for events (up to 10% higher). Furthermore, almost half the respondents (49%) are willing to give a one-time donation to cultural organisations, and a third (33%) are willing to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to assist cultural organisations.
A second wave of the survey is currently underway, with more detailed results expected in the coming weeks.