Whilst continuing to play a vital community role through the crisis, libraries have faced serious and singular challenges in the face of COVID-19. Libraries Connected have talked about the financial ‘triple whammy’ of budget reductions, loss of earned income, and the increased costs of running Covid-secure services, even as restrictions begin to ease. Meanwhile, many literary festivals, by virtue of switching to online events, have in fact seen higher total audience numbers, as well as upskilling to use new platforms that will likely have positive long-term impacts on their operating models.
Whilst museums, galleries and heritage sites may not have been shut down so entirely by COVID-19 as performing arts venues, they have still had to undergo a full factory reset in terms of sense of purpose, delivery logistics and visitor management - both in-person and online. When so many museums and galleries would previously have relied more heavily on walk-ups than most arts and culture organisations, thinking about the messaging around visiting is something they are having to do with more specificity than ever before.
Not only has COVID-19 led us outside because it is safer there, but it has also made us even more appreciative of the environments and communities around us – especially the hyper-local. Outdoor festivals have always been at the forefront of opening up cultural experiences for all. Now, more than ever, it seems as though other organisations need to follow where they lead. There is much to learn from innovators in the Outdoor Arts community that will be relevant, not just immediately post-pandemic, but much further into the future as well.
Looking forward, we expect different performing arts sectors to have different experiences with returning audiences. Core audiences seem keen (if hesitant to commit at this stage). But there is likely to be more reluctance from casual or occasional attenders, especially in older age groups. In Audience Spectrum terms, these would be less-engaged Commuterland Culturebuffs, Home and Heritage, and Heydays in particular. There’s likely to be a stronger response from audiences to contemporary art forms, especially in larger cities (e.g. New Writing and Contemporary Dance). We will track these trends and report on them as we know more from attender data.