Minorities less likely to attend than whites
Latinos and African-Americans in Denver are less likely to attend arts and cultural events, are feeling less represented in the cultural scene, and are more likely to face obstacles such as concerns about parking, a lack of information and feelings of exclusion at cultural events than whites.
Those are among the most significant findings of a phone survey conducted by Corona Insights on behalf of the city of Denver for its Imagine 2020 cultural plan, which launched in 2014 and reached its halfway mark this year.
The report, which city officials and pollsters shared at a meeting at the McNichols Building in Civic Center park on Tuesday, also compared results of a 2013 survey with the latest findings. The new survey included 800 respondents chosen to represent current population demographics for the city.
“I am unsurprised by the results, but we already know that we have some work to do — which is why I wanted to become a commissioner, and what Imagine 2020 is for,” Suzi Q. Smith, a poet and recently installed member of the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, said after the event. “There are some areas, particularly around diversity and inclusion, that I’m really interested in having the city engaged with. We’re a much more diverse city than I think all of our institutions show.”
While some findings in the survey were positive — including reports of increased attendance at concerts, galleries, museums and festivals, as well as increases in “personal art creation” — the report saw declines in respondents who attended a theater, dance, opera or symphony performance compared with 2013’s results.
The percentage of respondents who rated the amount of Denver’s culturally diverse programming as “good or excellent” also declined, from 68 percent in 2013 to 54 percent in 2017. The study noted declines in the number of people who were confident about experiencing arts and culture in their neighborhood, and in the city at large, as well as having the proper information to find such offerings in the first place.
“We still have more work to do,” Mayor Michael Hancock, who spoke to the 170 arts administrators and cultural workers in attendance, said to close the meeting.
The results are crucial, Hancock said, because arts and culture represent the city’s greatest marketing tool — whether they’re involved in selling Denver as a destination for nonstop flights or pitching the city for foreign business investments.
“You’re the reasons we’re able to do these things around the world,” Hancock said.
The event began with the results of Culture Track, a national study conducted by New York-based agency LaPlaca Cohen, which underlined the need for cultural organizers to “rethink their programs and outreach as demands of audiences of all ages shift.”
“Take your digital teams and really focus on this,” said Maggie Hartnick, managing director of LaPlaca Cohen. “Think differently about how you’re attracting new, different and younger audiences.”
The study noted major shifts in loyalty to arts and culture
“There are some areas, particularly around diversity and inclusion, that I’m really interested in having the city engaged with.”
Suzi Q. Smith, a member of the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs
brands, as well as the way audiences support cultural institutions, in light of the “easy, informal” examples set by crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter.
“What we’ve found is the definition (of culture) has expanded almost to the point of extinction,” Hartnick said, adding that a street fair or themed dinner falls under that definition these days.
The rapidly changing nature of audience behavior — and expectations — offers chances for museums, symphonies and theater companies to engage with younger, more diverse people via social media, as well as emerging technology such as virtual and augmented realities, the survey said.
Offering a fun experience — which historically has been frowned upon in favor of more intellectual and educational goals — should not be discounted. In fact, it should be at the forefront of a cultural institution’s plans, the study argued. Seeing a measurable social impact from supporting arts or culture is also important to younger audiences.
However, the study echoed some results of Denver’s phone survey — particularly in its finding that minorities were 82 percent more likely than whites to stay away from cultural participation because the activities don’t reflect them or their interests.
“A lot of times, there’s not access to people getting information (for arts events),” Anthony Garcia, the founder of the Globeville-based, community-focused nonprofit BirdSeed Collective, said at a post-survey panel. “We do a lot of ground-level work, … and, a lot of times, people don’t feel comfortable with the people that are giving them this information. They’re coming out of nowhere and expecting them to (respond).”
Garcia’s comments underscore the parallel but separate experiences of different communities in Denver. Overall, the barrier is relatively small, the study noted, but it’s disproportionately larger for AfricanAmericans and Latinos, who also reported a desire to participate more in the future.
Imagine 2020, which represented the city’s first comprehensive cultural plan in 25 years when it launched in 2014, has resulted in an investment of more than $500,000 in Denver arts and culture through new grants, art installations and murals, a speaker series and other initiatives, Hancock said.
Increasing the visibility of the impact of arts and culture on business leaders and political leaders has also been a focus, he said.
“Without hard data to make the case for the sector, it cannot access the resources and infrastructure necessary to support further growth,” the city reported. “Nor can this data be used to advance Denver’s cultural brand identity and economic expansion.”
“As Denver comes into its own, we want to make sure that arts and culture remain the very foundation of who we are,” Hancock said.
A survey sees declines in the number of respondents who attended a theater, dance, opera or symphony performance at places such as the Denver Performing Arts Complex.
People stroll through the Denver Performing Arts Complex, near the Ricketson Theatre, on a Saturday afternoon.