Mi­nori­ties less likely to at­tend than whites

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By John Wen­zel

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.

Den­ver Post file

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.

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