Chairman's Corner: May 28, 2020

Jo Reed:  I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with ‘The Chairman’s Corner — a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment, where we will discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more. The Arts Endowment’s Office of Research & Analysis conducted a survey of national arts service organizations to gather their ideas for re-engaging with their audiences.  This week, we preview the findings. Here’s Mary Anne to tell us about it

Mary Anne Carter: Well, the research study was intended to elicit a mix of quantitative and qualitative data from a cross-section of national arts organizations from all across America, and it was about their plans for reengaging with their audiences and visitors in physical venues. And the report hopefully will be used to educate the public about how national service organizations, our arts organizations are uniting safety with creativity and lead this national conversation.

Jo Reed: What did we learn from the survey? What did we get from this data?

Mary Anne Carter: At a high level of analysis, the data show there's a wide variability in levels of member organizations' preparedness to reengage with live audiences and visitors. So 33 percent, one-third, of those service organizations surveyed report that their members were somewhat ready, and that is they have a plan but have not yet begun implementing that reopening plan, while another 22 percent said that their members' readiness status is somewhat poor, meaning that their members were still developing that plan to reengage with audiences. Now, interestingly, none of those surveyed reported that their members were poorly prepared, and that would be not even having developed a plan yet, nor did any of our respondents report that their members were completely prepared, which would mean a full opening, and so the greatest share of respondents reported a pretty wide variety of readiness.

Jo Reed: What does it mean specifically, "a wide variety of readiness"?

Mary Anne Carter: Well, some of the arts organizations are opening right now. Some are prepared to open. They're waiting on a couple things. They're waiting on what the rules or regs of their local government might be. They are waiting to see the reopening schedules and capacity of their local schools and businesses, and once those issues are clarified these reopening timelines and scenarios, they'll become much clearer. And, again, despite this uncertainty some organizations have begun to open, and several have declared plans to reopen for the fall season, but again reopening looks different to every organization and especially among the disciplines. So, for example, opening is much more difficult for our performing arts organizations as opposed to museums.

Jo Reed: Well, that makes perfect sense, but what steps are they going to take to make audiences and visitors feel safe enough to actually go and visit a museum, for example?

Mary Anne Carter: Well, there's good news there. Across the board over 94 percent of the organizations surveyed are preparing to implement social distancing within their venues, and that may be changing their seating configuring, it might be marking their floors, but across the board 94 percent are preparing for that. Same percentages are preparing to increase their cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and also the same percentage planning to promote everyday preventative actions for their visitors and staffs, and that mean covering coughs, washing hands, having signs around explaining all of those things. And another 81 percent are preparing to offer COVID-19 prevention supplies to visitors and of course their staff such as hand sanitizer, disposable face masks, so you can see across the board everyone is trying to get up to the level where they can safely reopen and welcome and invite people back through their doors.

Jo Reed: Did anything surprise you in this survey, Mary Anne?

Mary Anne Carter: Maybe not surprising, but as a statement about just how serious our nation's arts organizations are and how committed they are to protect their audiences and their artists the data did find some interesting responses in the narrative. For example, organizations are considering new ways of doing things such as having artists travel by bus or car to avoid being in airports or on planes, or having performers wear street clothes over their dancewear or their costumes to minimize the time in the dressing rooms. So everyone is looking at ways to minimize and mitigate the potential to catch the disease, but almost all the respondents also plan to alter their business plans. They're looking to provide more education programming and archival content on digital platforms. But I will say, Jo, the data, it did show some disturbing narratives about the arts community as we look to reopen. An overwhelming number of respondents reported that they believe it will take more than a year for audience levels to return to last year's numbers, and none said that their recovery would be possible in a shorter period. So it's bad. We knew that, and, like so many other industry sectors across America, it will be bad for a while, but it will recover. It will take time, but it will come back, and that I know we can be certain of.

Jo Reed: Well, Mary Anne, I think that's a good place to leave it. Thank you.

Mary Anne Carter: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: We’ll be posting the report’s findings shortly. Look for it at arts.gov; and, as always, for the latest about the arts endowment, follow us on twitter @neaarts. I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.

The chairman discusses the recent survey of national arts service organizations conducted by our Office of Research & Analysis to identify strategies for re-engagement with audiences.