What has Covid-19 meant for the arts?
By Michelle Wright, Director of Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy and Naomi Chapman, Development Fellow, Cause4
There have been many papers written about the impact of Covid-19 on arts, culture and heritage. As we look forward into 2021, Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy looks at the key findings from national and international research papers and explores the pandemic’s impact on fundraising, marketing and audience development strategies. The full report is available online here.
This year has required serious strategic innovation and the research that’s been undertaken internationally to explore the impact of covid-19 on the arts has highlighted some very simple themes that will clearly resonate with arts and heritage leaders. Top of the list is that we need to ensure that our audiences feel safe, our messaging is both relevant and urgent and that we put our local community at the heart of our activities. It’s clear that proper integration between face to face and digital activity has become essential. Perhaps the no less urgent elephant in the room is the need to work collectively to monetize digital content by understanding better what audiences value and will pay for.
Organisational resilience will be vital to make sure that we create effective business models for the future.
We need to invest and prepare for possible future pandemic outbreaks and associated periods of inactivity.
However, perhaps more importantly, we have a workforce that has been battered both emotionally and financially throughout 2020, through redundancy, furlough or non-stop work to ensure survival. all these things take their toll. it will be kindness, support and collegiate work that will see organisations rebuild their spirit in 2021 and fight for the future.
So, what can we learn from the research so far?
01. Relevance and urgency
Many organisations have put frontline support for covid-19 at the heart of their activities. of course, this is the right thing to do, and it has had the additional benefit of building greater connections between the arts and local communities that will likely inspire different styles of collaboration in future. Be it providing capacity or direct support to foodbanks or supplying scrubs to the nhs – many arts organisations have delivered incredible work on the frontline. this has been valued by local communities, as well as by funders and donors. these tactical programmes of work will remain an important part of the arts story as we go forward.
02. Safety first
When it comes to marketing and audience development, messaging around safety measures and precautions will be as important as artistic messaging in the coming months. several studies on audience attitudes, such as the alva attractions recovery tracker and culture track, have shown that both factors are within an organisation’s power to address, and will ensure that audiences return more quickly. it is important for safety measures to be established and clearly articulated to increase the pool of people happy to return to cultural venues. the visibility of this sort of activity is also very important. audiences will need to see evidence of additional cleaning and social distancing precautions if we are to rebuild confidence.
03. Community is central
Support for our communities is a central part of ensuring an organisation’s relevance and needs to be an essential part of our communications messaging. it’s likely that the desire to return to culture will happen ahead of audiences feeling comfortable on public transport, and therefore local arts venues may be favoured more. Similarly, as individuals see working from home as a long-term and normalised state, they may prefer to consume culture locally or virtually. reports such as after the interval are clear that using messaging that emphasizes this localised perspective across fundraising and marketing will help existing audiences return, as well as being an important part of engaging new donors and audiences.
04. Digital is essential
It is no surprise that digital methods of fundraising, marketing and reaching audiences are more important than ever whilst covid-19 restrictions will likely remain in place long into the future. this has been evidenced by reports such as giving from a distance, which show the increase in donations made through digital methods, the uptick in audiences accessing content digitally, and in those using digital methods for marketing and engagement.
The challenge for the arts organisation is proper and effective integration of live and digital experiences, as well as seamless assimilation with communications and fundraising strategies.
05. Digital earned income models need development
However, whilst several pieces of research, including the audience outlook Monitor, show that significant numbers of the population are accessing culture digitally, less are happy to pay for this engagement.
As organisations and as a sector, urgent work needs to be done to establish valuable digital offers with viable earned income models. if we are going to protect the sector for the future, we need to develop digital models that audiences will truly prize. this activity needs greater understanding and sharing of insight. it remains a pressing consideration for funders that distribute both private or public funds, as the ethical considerations of digital investment are complex when proof of concept (or financial return) is so embryonic.
2021 is likely to demand even more from arts, culture and heritage organisations against an ongoing and uncertain environment. Whilst the emerging themes from research into the impact of covid-19 might be relatively simple, the implementation of ideas and choices for investment are far from easy.
The combination of relevance, community focus and digital investment will require a spirit of bravery, collaboration and resilience. the arts have a role to play in expressing and making sense of the diverse human experience. our creative work itself will continue to inspire, entertain, and inform and we need to learn from the research to ensure our arts organisations stay strong enough to continue sharing that culture
for many years to come.
This article first appeared in Arts Professional magazine 3 December 2020