Are Canadians ready to return to the arts?

On Tuesday, Sept 22, Chief Data Scientist and Founder of Nanos Research, Nik Nanos shared findings of the latest Arts Response Tracking Survey (ARTS), a partnership between Business / Arts, the National Arts Centre and Nanos Research, which polled over 1,000 Canadians to gauge their attitudes on returning to and supporting the arts across Canada. The fieldwork for this study was completed on July 30th, 2020 and targeted Canadian arts-goers. 

These latest findings offer terrific insight for arts organizations, in particular, fundraisers to help inform programming and fundraising models.

ARTS focused on three axes: 

1- Timing of Return, which tracked the impact of the pandemic and when arts-goers plan to return.

2- Conditions for Return, which tracked what precaution Canadian arts-goers would like to see in place prior to returning to arts and cultural events

3- Donations, which captured reported donation activity for 2019, 2020 and projected to 2021 to understand the likely immediate impact of the pandemic and to plan for 2021. 

Key findings:


• Timing of return: 

For indoor cultural activities, 23% of Canadian arts-goers would go back immediately, while 38% said they’d wait 6 months on average before going back. 1 in 3 still unsure about going back.

As for outdoor cultural activities, 37% said they’d go back immediately, 30% would wait 5 months on average, and 1 in 3 are still unsure about going back. 

Museums and galleries are the venues which Canadian arts-goers are not certain about the most, with a whopping 43% who said they’re unsure about when they’d go back. 


• Conditions for Return:

Culture-goers increasingly say that masks are a precaution that would make them feel comfortable to attend in-person. This suggests an alignment with public health recommendations. 

For indoor performances, 40% of indoor culture-goers (compared to 27% in May) who plan to attend immediately after reopening want masks. 

As for those who plan to wait 1 to 5 months before returning to attending performances, 43% expressed that they want masks (compared to 29% in May). 

The numbers are very similar for Outdoor performances: the consensus is that people would feel much safer if precautions included masks. 


• Donations:

In 2019, 43% of culture-goers donated to arts/cultural organizations an average of $158. In 2020, it is anticipated that the numbers will go down: 39% of culture-goers except to donate an average of $126 , which is a drop of 20% compared to 2019. 

On the bright side, 2021 seems to be promising: 42% intend to donate an average of $222, which is a 40% increase compared to the current year. 

Nik Nanos highlighted the fact that arts organizations will be hit hard this year. However, depending on the economical environment, there will likely be a rebound in donations in 2021. 

It is worth noting that the 35-54 age segment plan to donate less in 2021. This, however, will be compensated by a growth in donation amounts by the 55 plus cohort: their generosity is expected to continue into 2021. 


There was a discussion after the presentation by five panelists:

1-  Wesley J. Colford from Highlanders Theatre shared an inspiring success story; This relatively young theatre company, based in Sydney, Nova Scotia, was expecting to go bankrupt by August 2020 due to the pandemic. Instead of giving up, they started a program called “Radical Access”, where they pivoted from selling tickets to a crowdsourcing model by requesting monthly donations. The model has been a great success and they are already at 98% of their funding goal.

2- Irfan Rawji from Glenbow Museum in Calgary discussed finances, and what the Canadian government could do to help arts organizations. He highlighted the example of a UK government program that covers 50% of restaurant-goers’ bills on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In essence, the government is allowing the public to pick which restaurants will survive. 

3- Monica Esteves, ED of Canadian Stage in Toronto, said that they surveyed their audiences in June, and learned that their audiences were concerned about the company and its survival. At the same time, audiences were not willing to make long term commitments. In response, Canadian Stage is programming and selling their activities in three month “mini-seasons” and will continue to do so for the next 12 months at least. The board of directors reviews progress and approves plans in three month increments, enabling rapid organizational response to emerging situations.   

4- Claire Sakaki, ED of Bard on the Beach (Vancouver), spoke about their 31 year old Festival, which typically presents 300 performances in an iconic Vancouver location in the summer months. Ticket sales and donations make up the largest proportion of their $9 million annual revenues. Transcending physical location, they quickly re-branded to “Bard Beyond the Beach” with a temporary logo, and started “Bard in your Heart”, a brand for donors. At the same time, they re-imagined all of their activities on virtual platforms, ranging from (performances – you didn’t say?) through backstage tours and an annual dinner.

5- Jayne Watson, CEO of the National Arts Centre Foundation, talked about the NAC’s efforts to keep donors connected and happy at a time of great uncertainty.  She noted the strong connection between appealing projects and donor generosity, highlighting such initiatives as the NAC funding 12 theatre companies to deliver socially distanced performances, and the continued success of the Canada Performs series of free, live-streamed performances. She also noted their pivot from their traditional fall gala to an emphasis on individual donations, including a donation matching program. 

Slides from the meeting 

Video of the meeting