A young masked visitor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last month. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

Have you recently tuned in to an artist-led online walkthrough of an exhibition, or maybe a virtual studio visit on Instagram? If so, you’re far from alone. Artist livestreams are the most popular arts-related digital activity since the start of the pandemic, according to a new survey — and individual artists and performers, not organizations, are the most popular content providers.

These and other findings are summed up in the newly-released report “Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation,” based on a survey conducted by LaPlaca Cohen and Slover Linett Audience Research. The study examines people’s experience of the cultural sector in the era of COVID-19. Unlike other culture-centered pandemic impact reports, it does not focus on a single group, such as artists or museum workers, but rather the general public.

To capture this larger audience, 532 arts organizations sent the survey to their mailing lists, collecting 74,000 individual respondents. An additional 3,600 respondents were brought in from a core sample provided by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC)’s AmeriSpeak panel. To balance the general population and list respondents, which were generally “whiter, wealthier, and more urban than the nation at large,” the panel intentionally oversampled “underrepresented groups” in regards to race, education, and income.

The survey observed a “rising sentiment of arts and culture.” (graph courtesy LaPlaca Cohen/Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation Report)

The study began a year ago, with a first phase of research fielded from April 29 to May 19, 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. The latest report is based on a survey fielded from April 5 to April 30, 2021 and features more “BIPOC-serving organizations, cultural organizations located in rural parts of the country, festivals, libraries, for-profit music venues, and parks.” The institutions represented most heavily were still museums (192 distributed the survey to their mailing lists) and performing arts spaces (184.)

One striking uptick between the first and second phases of research: a year into the pandemic, respondents consider arts organizations more important to them personally. A “rising sentiment of arts and culture” was particularly true for BIPOC communities, defined in the report as Asian or Pacific Islanders, Hispanic and Latinx, Native American, and Black/African American.

Mask enforcement is the primary pandemic measure that makes audiences feel safe. (graph courtesy LaPlaca Cohen/Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation Report)

Other findings were less surprising: 65% of respondents said they prefered in-person to online cultural activities. Only 9% favored online experiences, while a more significant 26% is defined as “digitally agnostic,” either preferring the two about equally or opting to make decisions based on content. Free access was deemed the most important quality for an online activity (out of three identified qualities, which also included global access and a social component.) 

Still, the question of access to the arts is on the minds of many: 62% of respondents ​​believe it’s important for digital activities to include participants from different places. As Lise Ragbir observed in an op-ed for Hyperallergic last year, online programming has expanded and diversified the audiences of museums and other cultural organizations, but it remains to be seen whether those gains will carry through to the coming years.

Among those who said they didn’t pay for any online arts content, more than a fourth stated that their financial situation made it difficult to afford. And for respondents who were already attending in-person exhibitions, concerts, and other events by the time of the survey’s distribution, mask enforcement was the number one way in which organizations made them feel safe. 

The survey asked respondents whether they thought system racism was present in different types of arts orgs. (graph courtesy LaPlaca Cohen/Culture & Community in a Time of Transformation Report)

The survey also looked at public views of institutions’ roles in the social justice landscape. More than three-quarters of respondents identified one or more social issues they believe arts and culture organizations must address, with systemic racism as the top priority. Income inequality, climate change, and political division trailed not far behind. Notably, Black and African American respondents said they perceived systemic racism to be more present in museums than in any other type of arts organization. 

Finally, for arts institutions looking to make the changes the public wants to see, the numbers couldn’t be clearer: lowering ticket and entry prices should be at the top of their list. Improving equity and inclusion, supporting local artists and communities, and engaging more diverse groups were also deemed important.

Eleven percent of respondents said they did not want to see any changes in arts and culture organizations. We only wish this mysterious group of blissful optimists could tell us exactly which museums they’re visiting.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...