When seeking knowledge and/or improvement, it’s always a good idea to get input from others. That’s what the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County did recently by commissioning an extensive survey to help it prepare to resume its mission in the inevitable post-COVID era. The results were enlightening — and some were surprising. They’ll assist not only the Arts Council, but any artist or artistic organization that wants to be ready to open their doors again.
First, the not-so-surprising results: People are eager to see and participate in live artistic events — and they’re most eager to hear live music, followed by theater, festivals, film and visual arts, in that order.
After being separated and sequestered for so long, it’s natural to want to kick out the jams.
Also not surprising is that the arts-supporting crowd — smart folks — is taking COVID seriously: “88% of respondents said they’ve already received the vaccine or definitely plan to do so,” Chase Law, the president and CEO of the Arts Council, said in a press release. That “should help reduce any reluctance of traditional audiences about returning to in-person arts and cultural events.” Indeed.
One of the more surprising results is that younger people — under 35 — say they plan to increase their financial support for the arts. That’s good news for everyone involved in producing and promoting the arts. Many keystone arts institutions across the country were struggling even before the pandemic, as once-reliable donors — including corporate sponsors — backed away from their traditional support. It falls to the younger generation to pick up where their elders left off if they want to keep the arts alive.
One of the most significant finds is that respondents would like the Arts Council to take on more of an advocacy role, promoting our local arts. We agree. The work the Arts Council already does, as grant-maker and fundraiser, is essential. It’s also essential for someone to put a spotlight on the exceptional and unique talent in our community.
We sense that the council is flexible enough to ace that task — especially as led by Law, who hit the ground running in December and hasn’t slowed yet.
To tie it all together, 66% of respondents say they would support a community-wide cultural event designed to create awareness and generate support for the arts and cultural sector — 69% of those respondents were under 35. Most expect to return to live performances in August/September, with a slightly smaller group expecting to return in June/July.
As long as we continue to take the precautions we’ve been following so well — and get those last stragglers vaccinated — a summertime return is entirely possible.
The survey was sent to approximately 57,000 people comprised from the contacts of arts organizations that included Aperture Cinema, Bookmarks, the N.C. Black Repertory Co., Piedmont Craftsmen, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, the Delta Fine Arts center and others. The demographics include many ages, educational attainment, gender, race, income and vaccination status. But these are people who already, presumably, appreciate what the arts do for and mean to our community. There are more to win over.
A follow-up survey is planned for the fall.
And while most of our attention turns to the majority percentages, there are worthwhile suggestions throughout the survey, including combining live events with virtual options. There’s no reason that can’t work.
COVID has taken a terrible toll. The arts have contributed to our ability to persevere. It allows us to express the sadness of loss and joy of return in unique ways that others can identify with and share.
“The arts are a necessity, not a luxury,” one survey respondent wrote. “Thank you for all you do.” We second that. And as we consider the definition of “infrastructure,” that’s a good notion to keep in mind.