As an agency that has more than 30 leading, global arts organisations in its portfolio, we are especially concerned about the future of the industry in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. In a previous blog, we explored the evolution of the current crisis and its impact on the UK theatre industry. However, coronavirus is a global issue and with clients across the pond, in this blog, we would like to focus on the U.S arts & culture industry and discuss the new trends driving the sector as it approaches life after the pandemic.

What has been the impact of coronavirus on the theatre industry?

Prior to COVID-19, the U.S. arts and culture sector was not only a magnet for tourists, but also a crucial economic driver; contributing four times more to the U.S. economy than the agricultural sector and $200 billion more than transportation or warehousing.

This data confirms that the arts played, and continues to play, an important role in Americans’ daily lives, shared experiences, and job prospects.

However, the pandemic’s sudden and substantial impact on the sector, and the uncertainty surrounding the crisis, has resulted in a combined loss of more than $4.5 billion through April 2020. Moreover, the indefinite closure of cultural institutions has added up to an average estimated decrease in revenue from admission tickets of $34; 129 for each of the 11,000 surveyed institutions in a poll from SMU DataArts.

While all states of the country have been impacted, the effects of the COVID-19 crisis have still hit some places harder than others. According to a survey by the Metropolitan Policy Program – of the 50 states, California is hit hardest in terms of absolute losses for creative industries and occupations; followed by New York and Texas.

Although there have been varying degrees of financial assistance available, with the Congress passing a $300 million emergency stimulus package in March, this has hardly been enough to keep the majority of small and medium-sized arts organisations afloat when their audiences can’t reach them. As a result, there have been intensive efforts to provide alternative or additional services through digital platforms. In other words, the crisis has highlighted the need for digital connectivity, innovation, and audience engagement through digital approaches in the arts industry.

How has the U.S. arts, culture & heritage industry adapted to coronavirus?

Swapping physical performance spaces for virtual ones

With venues closed and more time at home, digital technologies have become instrumental in recreating the spaces in which people usually encounter the arts; allowing a greater accessibility and alleviating the stark revenue losses attractions are facing. And, even though virtual events are now primarily perceived across the industry as a means to fend off isolation and to bring audiences together once again, we could see online initiatives becoming an ongoing experience in the future.

Virtual shows offer fruitful monetising potential and reach which far surpasses that of on-ground events as there is no limit to the number of seats available and there are no obstacles related to age or location.

To put this into perspective, one of the prominent virtual events during lockdown – Minecraft-based virtual music festival, Block By Blockwest – managed to raise funds of $5,000 in less than an hour. Meanwhile, the large scale music festival, Tomorrowland,
is preparing one of the first paid livestreams which features more than 60 performers.

Unique Campaigns on Social Media

In response to the coronavirus crisis, many American arts organisations have taken to social media to engage, entertain, and educate their audiences. One of the most popular and celebrated examples of a creative social media campaign comes from the Shedd Aquarium and their inquisitive penguins.

Meanwhile, The Philbrook Museum is sharing images of the museum and its collections and engaging its community with art related discussions and a concert series on social media.

Live Streaming content has also been another very popular method for attractions to maintain their brand and core programmes on social media. For example, the Cincinnati Zoo hosted a live-stream Home Safari, which included close-up animal experiences accompanied by activities for home. Similarly, the San Diego Zoo offers live streams for people to get to know the animals that live there.

Virtual Tours

With global tourism at a halt, virtual tours have become an effective tool to allow American audiences to experience their most-loved attractions at their fingertips and from the comfort of their own living room. Google Arts and Culture already offers more than 2,500 free, virtual tours of cultural organisations across the globe. In the U.S., museums such as Museum of Fine Art Houston, High Museum of Art Atlanta, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Museum of Fine Arts Boston have emphasized the availability of virtual tours that allow visitors to easily explore their collections from afar.

Virtual Tour in a museum

The post-pandemic reality for the U.S. arts & culture sector

As the U.S. arts industry moves into phases of less physical distancing and resumes some social and economic activities, there is a need for a substantial and sustained national recovery strategy to undo some of the damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Relief funding, both governmental and organisational, is going to be key in this recovery strategy.
While, to a greater extent than anywhere else in the world, the arts in the U.S. largely depend on the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations; in order for the industry to survive, this time there should be support from across the board – including federal and state levels of government funding.

At the moment, U.S. arts organisations can benefit from a variety of funding made available to them though public and private organisations, foundations, and councils.

In addition to financial support, technical support is also needed to help organisations adhere to the new health and safety requirements, and adapt their business models in light of the restrictions on live performances.

With around 6 in 10 U.S. consumers saying they won’t return to both large outdoor and indoor venues for some time or for a long time, cultural attractions need to come up with creative solutions to encourage a return of footfall post-pandemic. In the same report, the Global Web Index speculates that ‘the solution to profitable socially distanced live events will be a combination of virtual and physical performances’. This hybrid of event could combine a limited number of seats or cars with an infinite online audience from around the world, helping creators open up new revenue streams once the pandemic is over.

In conclusion, we are seeing arts organisations around the world investing in digital more than ever before; whether that is through streaming, augmented or virtual reality, social media, or other online platforms. And, while we can’t predict the future with certainty, we know that when audiences return, the pandemic will have significantly accelerated the arts’ ability to connect with audiences through technology.

This means that attractions that are quick to embrace digital communications and technologies will flourish in the future. Of course, new forms of digital events will not replace live concerts, but they will definitely help the sector rebuild itself and generate additional income. With this being said, we would like to remind you that, here at After Digital, we are committed to helping arts organisations transition to the new ‘normal’ as best as we can. So, if you feel there is any way we can assist your venue digitally, please get in touch.

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