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How do we define culture? #DMA

Sara Devine, Director of Digital Engagement at the Brooklyn Museum and one of our DMA Mentors, discusses new findings from the Culture Track survey on cultural audiences
Last week I attended the New York reveal of LaPlaca Cohen’s triennial Culture Track survey. Beginning in 2001, Culture Track has been surveying cultural audiences to determine attitudes and behaviors and makes for some really interesting reading. Since its inception, Culture Track has grown in scope and scale, but always has at its core the initial survey in order to track changing attitudes over time. I have to say, the 2017 results were pretty fantastic.

First, the data set is stellar. With over 4,000 respondents, it has a very narrow margin of error and represents a cross-section of U.S. demographics. A pretty rare beast. Second, I love that the study focuses on the cultural sector overall. As a “museum person,” I find it hard to look outside the immediate field and there is much to learn from our friends in the cultural sector. Third, the results are about what you expect if you haven’t been living under a rock, BUT there are a few little surprises AND it’s great to have data to back up impressions.
There is a boatload of information in this report and I urge you to check it out yourself. Here I’m just going to share my two biggest takeaways:

  1. The way we define culture is changing.
  2. The reasons people participate in culture might surprise you.

Let’s start with the definition of culture. According to Merriam-Webster online, culture is defined as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” For most of us, I imagine, this brings to mind art, theatre, ballet, a historic site, maybe even science or history. Does it bring to mind a street fair? What about street art? Or food and drink? Because according to the latest Culture Track data, it does for quite a few cultural consumers. The top three activities defined as culture were: historic attraction/museum (69%), art/design museum (63%), and community festival/street fair (62%). Public/street art came in at 54% and  “Food and drink experience” at 52%. And here I just thought we competed with each other and with Netflix for visitor time and attention!
Many of the reasons people participate in culture are what you might expect: interest in the content (78%), learning something new (71%), and gives life a deeper meaning (61%). The top reason—which will surprise some in the museum field I’m sure—to have fun! Imagine that! For 81% of respondents, having fun is a reason they participate in culture. Not always a top priority, I’m sorry to say. A few of the more surprising results included feeling less stressed (76%), feeling welcome (64%), and bettering health/well-being (55%). An interesting theme emerging that might say something about our world today and the role culture can play.
So what does this mean for the Digital Marketing Academy? To me it brings up a lot of interesting questions. What happens if we combine culture definitions and partner with surprising organisations or groups? Encourage fun? Offer programs or activities that alleviate stress? Are we already doing these things and just not letting people know about them? Or do we need to re-examine our offerings and see if/how they fit into the cultural public’s priorities? There’s a lot of room for experimentation here, we just have to take this data and do something with it.

Header image courtesy of People United © Zoe Maxwell