Saturday, November 21, 2009

What if they are just tired?

In the last few weeks, I have been doing quite a bit of traveling. I have gotten the opportunity to speak with many of my colleagues from around the nation, and they are all saying the same thing -- ticket sales are down this year. Last year, I kept hearing that well branded products were doing very well, while less known fare was struggling. Now I am hearing that even annual cash cows (think A Christmas Carol and Nutcracker) aren't doing well. When a classic theater has problems selling Romeo and Juliet, you know something is up.

So it got me thinking about what is going on (and of course, this is just an opinion). We are all seeing reports that even though some aspects of the economy might be improving, many are still getting worse, such as unemployment. Unemployment is the highest is has been in 20 years. Last year when the stock market crashed and it became clear we were all in for what looked to be an unprecedented global economic crisis, many companies panicked. They didn't know how to project future revenue, so they opted to look at the side of the ledger they could control -- expenses. With that came the layoffs.

Those lucky enough to survive the layoffs took on responsibilities that were normally handled by two or three people. Many managers noted that the resulting model was unsustainable, but thought that most people could put up with the extra load for a short period of time, hoping that the economy would improve and that hiring would be possible. Well, it has been over a year, and unemployment is getting worse, so the unsustainable model of having one person carry the workload of three continues.

As arts administrators, I no longer believe our largest challenge is dealing with people's fears about the economy. That was so last year. Instead, we now have to deal with people who are simply exhausted, and when Friday comes, they want to do nothing more than spend the weekend on the couch in order to recuperate and be ready for the next grueling work week. Whereas last year, our largest competitors might have been other cultural destinations or sporting events, I am starting to think that our most significant future competitor might be cable television and a warm bed.


kathy said...

With the economy continuing to press down on all of us, and the noise of the world continuing to grow, I don't disagree that we are a tired lot. However, the thing I have observed with my clients in Minneapolis/St. Paul (mostly mid-size theaters & dance companies) is that sales have been tremendously better this fall. And it's not Nutcracker programming. Maybe it's the titles, the intimate theaters, the fact that the weather has been warm -- who knows, but far more people are in the seats this year compared to last.

andrewzender said...

I think you've nailed it here. As an arts marketing professional -- and a person who enjoys the merits of a Friday evening spent in the comfort of one's home -- I find that after trying to find a solution during the 'grueling' work week you speak of, I relish in being a part of the problem too.

Marc Muszynski said...

I'm surprised we have escaped the "tired" excuse until now.

It's fascinating that people think this is a problem. This is our chance to change the broad audience of the arts.

People are tired, yes, but that's not why they don't come to the arts. They don't come to the arts, because other people have provided them an easier to access, cheaper, or more enjoyable alternative.

Arts can be the thing people do when they're tired, the place they go to be engaged and excited and woken up.

Whoever can figure out how to execute that is going to be having a great time, while everyone else sits around wondering where all the audience went.

Christine Bernardi said...

As an arts administrator, I am so in agreement with this theory. I think it might be a large part of the explanation of why younger people are less likely to attend the arts. Younger people often work long hours and and have responsibilities like small children that just make a relaxing rest at home more appealing than a night at the theatre.