At Spektrix, everything we do is based on our belief in the power of live events to improve life for individuals and communities. In service to this belief, it is our mission to support the organizations we work with to engage with the widest possible audiences. We recently made several commitments to forward our mission by playing our part in improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry we serve. Today we’ll be talking about a project we’re working on to support our clients and the arts industry to measure the diversity of arts audiences.
Like many of you in the field, I started working in this industry because I believe that exposure to arts and culture, especially in group settings, transforms individuals and communities. It widens our sense of ourselves and others and fulfills a deep human need to connect. Engagement with the arts is also known to improve economic, social and educational outcomes for individuals and communities. I was an arts fundraiser for many years because I believe that access to the arts is a fundamental need worthy of investment. I now work for Spektrix because it gives me the opportunity to support the 450+ arts organizations we work with directly - and the sector as a whole - to be as successful and create as much impact for their communities and audiences as possible.
It is with this perspective that I know this sector truly wants to engage with our communities in all their diversity. Yet, the hard truth we are grappling with is that broadly speaking, arts audiences do not seem to reflect the communities around them; they tend to be older, whiter, more financially privileged and have fewer disabilities than those who don’t attend. We see evidence of this in aggregate data sets like LaPlaca Cohen’s ‘Culture Track’. A diverse range of organizations and individuals, from key funders like Arts Council England in their 10-year plan ‘Let’s Create’ to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) artists like those organized under the banner of ‘We See You, White American Theater’, are echoing discontent with the current makeup of audiences and making their demands for change clear.
The lack of diversity in arts audiences is clearly widespread and critically in need of addressing. Addressing it is vital to the health of our sector and the wellbeing of our communities and, perhaps most importantly, we believe we have a moral obligation to help make access to the arts more equitable.
So, what are we doing about it at Spektrix? At heart we are a CRM system with close ties to the arts sector but we don’t directly engage with audiences, we don’t make hiring or programming decisions in audience-facing organizations and we can’t know the unique nature of each community like the organizations who work within it.
We have found an answer to this question in consultation with organizations who do have that direct responsibility for audience development strategy. It is often the case that users come to us for consultation on the ways measurement and analysis can support their goals. In more and more of these conversations, clients have reached out for advice on how to use reporting and measurement to help them better understand how to improve the diversity of their audiences.
Clients tell us that while some tools for this exist, they have found it a major challenge to measure the demographic composition of audiences accurately, efficiently, ethically and to the level of granularity needed if they are to find ways of diversifying it. Because they feel they can’t measure the problem accurately, they can’t know what impact the changes they are making are having, they can’t share successful strategies with funders or other organizations, and they can’t argue for bigger budgets to double down on successful strategies.
These conversations and our own research have taught us that the existing options are prone to three common problems. They often rely on small sample sizes, creating results with wide margins of error which are not often reported. Many current methods risk a significant level of participation bias, where those who do respond to surveys over-represent certain demographic characteristics. Analysis is not conducted frequently enough nor consistently enough to measure the impact of changed programming, marketing or other activities designed to improve diversity. We think this means there is important work to do to create a reliable and statistically sound method of tracking audience demographics.
The solution to this problem is unlikely to lie in customer relationship technology alone. However, our experience with measurement and analysis alongside our technological expertise and collaborative relationship with our clients means we can and should try to help address this need for measurement. If we are successful, we believe that improved measurement will, in turn, give arts organizations the insight and accountability needed to make sustained change.
Since August, Spektrix CEO, Michael Nabarro and I, along with many of our colleagues, have been researching audience demographic measurement, reviewing theory and current practice as well as interviewing many clients and sector experts. Finding a solution which is accurate, practical, ethical and customer-friendly will not be easy. That’s why we’re soliciting new and creative solutions from a wide range of experts in the arts, academic and market research sectors, and from across our own specialist teams within Spektrix. Seeking input from these people will likewise ensure that this project combines a range of expertise that represents the diversity of these fields.
Though we never thought this would be easy, this work has shown us just what a challenge lies before us. In software development this phase of work is often called ‘discovery’ and focuses on understanding the problem as well as we can, before presenting possible solutions. This phase has also shown us that many arts sector organizations are willing and eager to work towards solving this problem, something we are truly heartened by.
As the timeline of our work is intricately linked to the return of audiences, we want to be careful to set expectations that this project is one which may be ongoing for some time and which we may ultimately fail to solve despite our best efforts. Our work to gather information and organizations interested in the project is ongoing and we invite you to be in touch if you would like to contribute. We look forward to updating you on our project principles and what they mean for any potential approach in another installment of this blog.
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Liv Nilssen is Global Sector Strategy Lead at Spektrix