Commentary: What's behind the dip in families visiting museums & perf arts?

Colleen Dilenschneider, Know Your Own Bone blog, 3/6/13

Is your nonprofit still operating under the assumption that most folks visiting museums and performing arts venues are doing so with their nuclear families? Think again. While only 7 years ago a majority of visitors attended visitor-serving organizations (VSOs) with their nuclear families, the majority are now visiting with significant others. Why does this matter? Well, if you don't know who your audience is, then it is more difficult to target them or retain their support. And keep in mind: Your "audience" is a dynamic group comprised of both online and onsite persons, as well as would-be and actual visitors alike. In other words, just because you are marketing your nonprofit to families and households with children doesn't necessarily mean that they comprise the majority of your audience. We witness a decline of people visiting with children by high-propensity visitors (HPVs, or those persons possessing the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral attributes that tend to suggest an increased likelihood to visit a VSO).Here are four noteworthy takeaways from the data:

1) The number of families attending VSOs has decreased 13% amongst HPV families.  Part of this decline relates to our evolving demography - there is a corresponding decline in "birth over death rate" amongst the educated, affluent populations that have historically comprised many VSOs core audiences

2) The number of folks attending VSOs as couples has increased 10% among "HPV couples". [Also,] we increasingly find that while "family-centric" advertising may risk engaging adults without children, more couples-focused messaging generally does not alienate family audiences. 

3) Grandparents are increasingly important decision-makers when it comes to bringing a child to a VSO.  This may be symptomatic of more dual-income households or of a broader societal trend toward more grandparents raising their grandchildren, but the prominence of grandparents as both heads of households and proxy parents is clear.  Many VSOs have acknowledged this trend by re-imagining their family membership programs to be more contemplative of grandparents. 

4) [This shift in attendance] is a reflection of the overall market. When you consider all of the data, the shifts aren't at all surprising.  Rich, white folks - who still make up a substantial number of HPVs  - are having fewer children. From a societal point of view, the traditional "family" has undeniably evolved. Baby boomers - another demographic that has a high percentage of traditional HPVs - are bringing their grandchildren to their favorite museums, operas. Generation Y - the largest generation of all  - is taking over the market, having children later in life (and, thus, are more likely to visit with friends or significant others), and also having children out of wedlock (and, thus, are more likely to visit without a spouse).


U.S.'s only armory museum, "very good in reaching family audiences," to close

Geoff Edgers, The Boston Globe, 3/8/13

The Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, for almost eight decades the only museum in the country devoted solely to arms and armor, will close for good in December. The armory is a rare combination of serious conservation, preserving more than 2,000 objects dating to ancient Egypt, and community participation, including "Over­Knight" sleepovers for youth groups and birthday parties in which the cake is sliced by a sword-wielding, costumed "interpreter." Most of the prized collection will remain in Worcester and accessible to the public. The Worcester Art Museum will receive the Higgins's inventory, and the Higgins will also transfer its endowment of almost $3 million. Last year, the Higgins Armory, with an annual budget of $1.3 million, attracted 60,000 visitors. The Worcester Art Museum, with a $9 million annual budget, had about 46,000 visitors. "The Higgins is very, very good in reaching an audience we are not as good at, which is family audiences," said Matthias Wascheck, the Worcester Art Museum's director. The collapse of the Higgins, said interim director Suzanne W. Maas, is not because of a lack of popularity but to its failure to raise enough money to balance its budget. In recent years, deficits have hovered between nearly $1 million and $500,000, according to tax filings. "There is not enough long-term support, and I can say I am very gratified that the trustees have made the tough decision and did not draw it out," she said. "There's a sadness, but it's the right decision. It is in finding the absolutely best home for the long-term stewardship of this collection."


An orchestra tries unorthodox seating plan to lure adults with new families

Carlet Cleare, WXXI [Rochester NY public TV/radio station], 2/26/13

Orchestras are experimenting to reach new young audiences. Suggested strategies include changing the way classical music is presented, altering repertoires and even having musicians play more intensely. But, none of these ideas address the challenge of how to lure young adult audiences who might be juggling a new family with work obligations. "I think there's this stereotype that goes along with classical music. It's elite. It's boring. It's stiff. And it's reserved for old people," sayshornist Emily Wozniak, who's the artistic director and founder of a student-run orchestra called Sound Exchange, based out of the Eastman School of Music. "The goal of the group is to redefine what an orchestra is," Wozniak explains. That's by seating the audience inside the orchestra, so they can sit next to a tuba player or violinist. "Then they get to watch the conductor and they get to actually experience what it's like to create a huge sound," Wozniak says. "They get to feel that energy." Sound Exchange performs at different Rochester venues such as galleries and college campuses. The ensemble is experimenting with creative programing, much like many other orchestras, by collaborating with professional dance troupes and incorporating multi-media into their performances. Wozniak says she's hopeful this will draw a younger audience. "I think, at least, for our generation we are very visual generation. We're used to computers and phones and all this stimulation all the time.  So to expect people our age to come to a symphony concert and sit there for almost 3 hours in one seat and focus on an experience that's happening not even close to them, very far way, it's not exactly realistic."


Commentary: Fewer families are going to the movies together

Bob Fischbach, Omaha [NE] World-Herald, 8/19/12
[Last year saw] a long, relatively dry movie summer for parents of little ones and families who want to see a new movie together. Family advocates point to recent studies that indicate G and PG movies actually make more money. But some in the movie industry say changes in American society, and in the typical family, suggest a market for movies families can watch together has dwindled in the Internet age. Today the burgeoning category of PG-13 is where Hollywood thinks its bread gets buttered. But, over time, more profanity, violence, sexual themes and bathroom humor now are part of the PG-13 package. "They no longer seem like dependable family fare," said Paul Dergerabedian of That adds to demand for G and PG movies at the multiplex. [But] lately, those films have been scarce. Dergerabedian, president of's box office division, [said]: "Maybe they're not making them (G and PG) because they think there's not an audience," he said. "Today no teen wants to go to a G movie. It's got to be at least PG to be cool. They're not the same 14-year-olds that were around 50 years ago. It's a different world, and they're reflective of that."  Lew Hunter, professor emeritus of screenwriting at the University of California-Los Angeles film school and a former NBC programming executive, agreed. "A few years ago PG was box office poison in a lot of people's minds," he said. "Nowadays, not necessarily, thanks to some great animated features. But I really think they (moviemakers) continue to ride on the concept of what a 15-year-old boy wants to see."

In addition, he said, the nuclear family has been decimated. "Rarely do families go to a movie together. The teenagers say, 'Well, I don't want to go to a movie my parents would want to go to.'"

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