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Excuses, Excuses (Part 2)

What’s the most common reason people who want to attend the arts don’t follow through?

Time. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. Not surprised? I figured.

Let’s be honest for a minute. How often do people say they can’t find the time for something when, in reality, it’s that they don’t make the time? According to the American Time Use Survey, 95% of Americans over 15 participate in leisure activities for an average of 5 hours a day. Nonetheless, the perception that they lack time keeps them from participating in a host of available activities, and the arts are no exception.

The arguably larger problem is that we arts marketers take this at face value. It makes sense, really. If the barrier that is keeping people away is their own lack of time, the problem isn’t ours, right? In short: it’s not us, it’s them. Their excuses become our excuses.

But, of course, it is our problem. And we compound it by focusing on our inability to control others’ time, rather than by treating the response as a clue to determining the challenges we need to address. To quote When Going Gets TouWatch representing our timegh, “The question becomes: How might arts organizations and presenters better tap into people’s personal values and preference sets, to curate activities on which more people choose to spend time.”

Either we’re asking people to give up leisure time to attend arts or to designate some leisure time to the arts, depending on whether they see the arts as a leisure activity. Regardless, the onus is on us to communicate why it is worth that time. How do we make our art and our organizations integral to the life of a person who, until now, has allowed their perception that they lack the time to come between them and a performance or exhibit they wanted to see?

  • By reading beneath the headlines. Crack the books and pound the pavement (yes, both!) to learn what motivates people like the ones you are trying to attract and build experiences designed to meet those needs. Use language that connects your art and organization to their interests and desires.
  •  Look for deep connections. You’re not just trying to get folks to go to any old performance or exhibit, you’re trying to get them to go to your performance or exhibit. What makes this the right fit and the right relationship to warrant reallocation of time? Remember, of course, that not all prospective audiences are going to be the right fit for your organization, and that’s okay. (More on that over here.)
  • Keep your ears open. Chances are that at least some of the people saying that time is the barrier keeping them away are impacted by others as well. Some may be practical and even related to time, like difficulty getting to a location that might be far from home, but it’s likely that some are perceptual, too. These are the more deeply rooted things that keep people away from the arts: the sense that they don’t belong, it’s not for them, or that the risk is too great.

Sure, we all seem to run out of time to do the things we’d like to do, but as arts organizations, we cannot resign ourselves to the belief that a prospective audience that says they lack time is completely out of reach. How people choose to spend their time is a reflection of their identities, their priorities, and their values. Our challenge is to make attendance at our arts events a logical, and even critical, expression of those identities.Indian dancer

Check out the third and final post here, highlighting the findings of the National Endowment for the Arts’ new report When Going Gets Tough, which focuses on the ways arts audiences and would-be audiences conceive of themselves and their values.

Watch Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Peter Miller
Dancer Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Rajesh Karkera

Credits for report by National Endowment for the Arts