In partnership with Creative Scotland, The Audience Agency has conducted a 'temperature taking' survey of organisations across the nation and their audiences' attitudes to returning to culture post-COVID.

November 2020

The Scottish Intentions survey offers a nationwide view of audience behaviours and attitudes both during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Creative Scotland is keen to understand the crisis' implications for programming, audience return, artform preferences and venue viability across the country. These findings give a representative snapshot of previously regular attendees across a select group of organisations, producing companies and venues.

These core audiences answered a variety of questions around the following areas of concern:

  • What kind of culture will people be prepared to attend/come back to first?
  • What artforms would be initially accessible after coming out of First Stage Lockdown?
  • Which audience profile types (Audience Spectrum and Mosaic) are more inclined to return, and why?
  • How will things like facilities, changes to environment, or travel barriers affect attendance?
  • How do attitudes and opinions around returning to culture vary between artforms: i.e. Visuals Arts vs. Theatre, Music etc.

Key findings from the Survey

Lockdown Experiences

  • Most (73%) respondents said that they had done one of a list of cultural activities online during lockdown. The most popular activities to have done more than usual were ‘streamed talks, conversations or podcasts’ (37%), streamed theatre performances (30%), streamed concerts (29%) and streamed museum/gallery tours (27%).
  • Younger audiences (16-34 year olds) were much more likely to have engaged with online arts or cultural events for children, workshops, podcasts, streamed films and streamed literature events than over 60s, and less likely to have engaged with virtual museum and gallery tours. 29% of those with children in the household had engaged with online arts or cultural events for children.
  • Higher-engaged Audience Spectrum groups were particularly likely to have listened to ‘streamed talks, conversations or podcasts’ (52%, cf. 27% and 30% for medium and lower-engaged groups respectively), as were urban rather than rural audiences (38% vs 28%).
  • Middle-aged audiences were most likely to have paid for fixed-price content (40% cf. 33% overall) and both they and younger audiences were most likely to have made a donation (38% and 39%, cf. 35% overall). Older audiences were more likely to have paid for something by virtue of it being included in a membership (13% cf. 10% overall).

Future Attendance

  • Half of respondents said that they were likely to attend about the same amount in future as they ever had, with a substantial 26% ‘not sure’ whether they’d attend the same amount, or more, or less: reflecting the widespread lack of certainty at the moment. The remaining 25% were three times as likely to say they would attend ‘less’ than ‘more’ (19% vs. 6%), implying a moderate ongoing contraction to average audience frequency.
  • This difference varied between those who had shielded and those who hadn’t (31% ‘less’, 6% ‘more’ vs 17% and 6%); but also by age, with 27% of those 16-34 saying they’d attend ‘less’ but only 14% of over 60s (this was particularly reflected in higher potential volatility of attendances for Experience Seekers, a younger-than-average group). Pre-booking would make all of these groups more likely to attend.
  • Approximately 10% more of those with children or without disabilities expected to attend the same amount, with an equivalent proportion less ‘not sure’ (an effect even more pronounced for those who were shielding). Visual arts audiences were also more likely to say they would attend less.

Payment to Support Organisations

  • The most popular approach to supporting organisations during COVID was through a suggested voluntary surcharge (78% ‘definitely’ or ‘might’ consider this; 37% and 41% respectively). Support for this was relatively even across audience types, but more popular with those who had shielded (46% ‘definitely’).
  • The next most popular approach to supporting organisations during COVID, with similar levels of support, was through a voluntary donation (78% ‘definitely’ or ‘might’ consider this; 33% and 45% respectively).
  • The third most popular approach was paying more than before, also supported by most respondents (74% ‘definitely’ or ‘might’; 31% and 43% respectively). The proportion who ‘definitely’ would is higher for older age groups (37% of those 60+), those who have shielded (42%), visual arts audiences (41%) and those in rural areas (42%).
  • Other approaches were less popular (with ‘definitely’ or ‘might’ totalling 67% for memberships, 55% for crowdfunders, 60% for ‘something else’, although the former did have a notable 33% who would ‘definitely’ consider memberships, which is promising, given the commitment this suggests). It would be useful to explore in more detail the types of membership that audiences would support (e.g. discount schemes, enhanced access/benefits, charitably-motivated etc).


  • The most important motivations for future attendance were the particular product (67%), ‘supporting the organisation’ (61%), ‘getting back to normal’ (40%) and ‘re-immersing myself in culture’ (31%). For families, a ‘family day out’ (28%) was also important.
  • ‘Having a communal experience’ was next highest (17%), but more important for visual arts audiences (25%) and 16-34 year olds (22% — who were also particularly motivated by ‘getting out of the house’ with 19%, cf. to an average of 10%).
  • For those describing their motivations for a visit that they had already made since lockdown, the balance was notably different. ‘Supporting the organisation’ was the most-cited reason (76%), with ‘re-immersing myself’ and ‘getting back to normal’ next (50% and 46%): only then followed by the specific product (43%).

Barriers and Mitigations

From the range of mitigations listed, there were five main groups:

  1. Those that were widely rated as likely to encourage greater attendance (over 70% ‘more likely’), with almost no respondents (under 3%) saying they would visit less often. These were: ‘availability of hand sanitiser’, ‘reassurance about cleaning’ and ‘staff COVID training’. There is little reason not to implement these from an audience perspective, with the first two particularly important.
  2. Those that are have similarly high proportions saying that they would attend more, but with small proportions (c. 5-10%) saying that they would attend less as a result. These measures do often impact on audience experience (e.g. ‘physical distancing’, ‘socially-distanced seating’, ‘measures to manage queuing’, ‘staff wearing face masks’, ‘restrictions on audience/visitor numbers’). Given the overall benefit, these are likely to be widely advisable.
  3. A third group had moderate proportions likely to attend more (55-64%) and no more than 4% saying that they would attend less: ‘use of kite marks’, ‘relaxed refund policies’ and ‘contactless payment’ (largely made up of a minority who said they would be ‘much less likely’).
  4. A group of responses that have medium to high proportions (45-75%) saying that they would attend more, but where these generally rise along with the proportion who say that it would attend less (7-12%). These include ‘visitors wearing masks’ (the most divisive measure, scoring at the top of both brackets, followed by ‘pre-booking events’ [which was similar to ‘amended event times’, except that had fewer people who said they were more likely to attend as a result]). These measures are something of a trade-off, since – in general - the more people they encourage, the more they discourage. However, all but one have over half the audience more likely to attend and those who are less likely are mostly only ‘slightly less likely’ – they are acknowledged as inconveniences, rather than major barriers.
  5. Finally, a reduced food and drink offer scarcely convinced a higher proportion to attend more than less (25% vs 14%) as it wasn’t important to many of either.

Thus, whilst some measures were clearly more important than others, a case could be made for almost all of them as benefitting potential attendance.

Artform Variations

Visual Arts

  • Most core visual arts audiences have returned since lockdown (55%), though 91% attended at least once every 3 or 4 months before lockdown.
  • Most of those had a positive experience (‘72% very good’, 23% ‘good’) and intend to return soon (80% ‘as soon as possible’ or ‘within a week or two’).
  • Attitudes are mixed about reattending, however: when asked whether and when they ‘would book if something they wanted to see went on sale tomorrow’, 75% said they would, but only 39% ‘now’.
  • The main reasons for waiting given were being worried about the number of people there (50%) or COVID-19 restrictions affecting quality of experience (48%). Just over 1 in 5 said they wanted to stay local at the moment.

Performing Arts

  • Only a third (34%) of core performing arts audiences have returned since lockdown (although this could be to any art form, many performing arts venues remaining closed will clearly have affected this, given their preferences). In any case, performing arts audiences were less regular in their previous attendance: 93% in the previous year before lockdown, but only 20% once a week or more, compared to 30% for visual arts.
  • Where they had reattended, their views were positive (63% ‘very good’) but less so than visual arts (perhaps reflecting that their art form preferences were less likely to have been met).
  • This group of reattenders was particularly likely to reattend soon, however, with 90% ‘as soon as possible’ or ‘within a week or so’.
  • The nature of performing arts events may also be affecting their reasons for concern about reattending, with more concerned about the number of people (62%, cf. 50% for visual arts) and concern about the adequacy of social distancing being selected by 25% (cf. only 11% for visual arts).

Download and explore the Scottish Intentions Survey in full