Creative Places: Changing Hours

May 2024

Cultural Participation MonitorWave 10 | Spring 2024

This research is from The Audience Agency's nationwide longitudinal (ongoing) panel survey of changing views about participating in creative and cultural activities through the recent and ongoing crises, and beyond, the Cultural Participation Monitor.

Themes

We’ve been seeing a range of changing audience behaviours and attitudes since the pandemic, including shifting attitudes to event timings.

We weren’t alone: the National Theatre spotted something similar in their research and as a result are now piloting some earlier event times, starting at 6.30pm[1] as described here.

The early evening performances will offer more flexibility for audiences to make the most of their evening, whether that’s more time to grab a bite to eat, to discuss the show over a glass or two, or simply not having to rush off to catch the last train

The National Theatre

On a micro scale, I also had a conversation with a long-term, regular arts-attender on the Fediverse who was commenting on the difficulty of getting back out to the Home Counties from music events in London that finished late [an anecdote which piqued my interest, and the specifics will prove relevant later…]. 

As part of the Cultural Participation Monitor, we asked a couple of exploratory questions[2]: 

  • Would you be more likely to visit a museum/gallery if they stayed open into the evening? (e.g. if they were open until 9pm) 
  • Would you be more likely to visit a music/theatre event if it started and finished earlier in the evening? (e.g. if it finished by 9pm) 

There’s nothing magic about 9pm as a time, but it helped to differentiate these options from typical hours, as well as being something specific for respondents to get a handle on (rather than using a slightly meaningless ‘earlier’ or ‘later’). 

We also asked about ‘museum lates’ in our overall questions about the types of cultural activities people had done in the last year, so knew that 7% said they had been to one (rising to 22% among Asian/Asian British respondents, but also higher in London – 16% - and among under 45s, e.g. 12% of 35-44s). These results alone would have suggested that there was potential to develop audiences through museum lates. 

But what we saw was, I think, pretty striking: 

33% responded "Yes", 40% responded "Maybe" and 27% responded "No"
Would you be more likely to visit a museum/gallery if they stayed open into the evening? (e.g. if they were open until 9pm) 

And

35% responded "Yes", 40% responded "Maybe" and 25% responded "No"
Would you be more likely to visit a music/theatre event if it started and finished earlier in the evening? (e.g. if it finished by 9pm) 

Whilst we wouldn’t of course assume that this suggests that a mere tweak to opening or performance hours will open the flood gates, it does provide a pretty strong clue that there might be real benefit in exploring further.

Even delving[3] further into these figures gives more reason to see how these adjustments could be useful. For museum and galleries opening later, Black/Asian respondents (61%/58%), along with under 35s (54%), those with children (45% overall, and 49% of those with under 5s), and those who work from home (44%) were all more likely to agree that they would be more likely to attend. Using Audience Spectrum as a guide, Experience Seekers (47%), Kaleidoscope Creativity (47%), Frontline Families (40%) and Metroculturals (38%), were all more likely to agree as well. Given this profile, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Londoners were also more likely to agree (45%), so we would expect to see more museum late events in the capital (indeed, the higher figures may also partly be because there already are more museum lates in London, as well as more activity into the evening in the capital in general).

For music and theatre events finishing earlier, positive responses were also higher for many of the same groups, for example Black/Asian respondents (57%/46%), younger groups especially 25-34s (48%), those with children (46% and 50% for those with under 5s), and those working from home (43%). The balance of Audience Spectrum types was similar, but with a different emphasis, being higher for Kaleidoscope Creativity (42%) and Experience Seekers (40%) in particular, but also Metroculturals (38%) and Frontline Families (38%).

As well as figures being higher for London (36%), they were particularly high for those living in the South East (41%), backing up the anecdotal discussion about travel out of London and reflecting the National Theatre’s comment about not rushing for the last train. Women were also more likely to say yes (39%) which could reflect a greater sense of safety from travelling home earlier (see data about differing attitudes to safety walking alone at night, based on Office of National Statistics figures here).

Even those with no cultural engagement in the last year (based on the categories asked about, see our article on engagement) thought that these approaches might make them more likely to attend, with 14% agreeing to each question that they would be more likely to attend as a result. With those saying ‘maybe’ included, this suggests 49% of ‘non-attenders’[4] might be more likely to attend with late opening of museums and 51% by early finishes to music and theatre events.

This is probably best seen in the context of people wanting more choices, rather than a different ‘standard’ opening/performances times. There’s a challenge in finding the new equilibriums in a shifting audience landscape where the volume, preferences and potential spend of audience groups exceed the costs of providing those particular type, timing and format of cultural experiences. This research does, at least, provide a suggestion of a couple of opportunities and the groups that are most likely to be reached by them. Hopefully the results of the National Theatre’s experiment will provide further evidence and, if successful, will be picked up elsewhere.

Footnotes

  1. Let’s just take a moment to applaud them for taking the step from audience research to live experimentation, having the courage for doing an experiment that will provide useful learning for the whole sector. We love to see it.
  2. Clearly, this is a big topic that needs more exploration than just a couple of questions, but part of the role of the Cultural Participation Monitor is to identify where to dig further; a bit like the use of aerial photography for archaeologists…
  3. Apparently there was a recent social media storm suggesting the use of ‘delve’ was a sign of people ‘trying to look clever’. I’m going to have to trust you not to conclude that’s what’s going on here.
  4. With the same caveat that it is ‘self-reported non-attenders in the last 12 months to the specific list of activities we asked about’, but since these included museums, live music events, plays and musicals, it does suggest a potential impact in relation to the two broad categories for which we suggested different opening or performance times.

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