Screengrab from the survey on the state’s arts and culture industry. Credit: Screengrab / Connecticut Humanities and the Arts Council of Connecticut

The state’s arts and culture attractions are healthy but could be better with some small tweaks, according to a survey from Connecticut Humanities and the Arts Council of Connecticut.

The survey was designed to help the state’s cultural organizations learn more about who engages with the arts, culture, and humanities, what motivates them to do so, and the perceived impact and value Connecticut residents place on the industry.

During a video meeting last week led by Susie Wilkening, of Seattle-based Wilkening Consulting, she said she hoped Connecticut’s cultural organizations will use the survey’s findings to make decisions about how best to engage with state residents, inform funding scenarios, and in advocacy efforts, to strengthen the sector.

“First of all, these findings should make you feel really good about what you are doing in Connecticut,” Wilkening said at the top of the meeting. “The data we will share will make you understand you are doing a good job and how you can engage even more people in certain areas.”

Wilkening began with the two big takeaways from the data:

  1. Virtually all Connecticut residents engage in the arts, culture, and the humanities either formally and/or informally, and;
  2. Most Connecticut residents think the arts, culture, and humanities deliver important impacts in Connecticut and support the state’s investment in the sector.

The survey drew comparisons and differences to those at various ages and stages of their lives regarding whether they were more likely to visit a museum or attend a performing arts event.

“It is not a cage match between museums and the performing arts, but these numbers we are talking about will help each support the other and both will become better for it,” Wilkening said.

Residents who were surveyed almost uniformly responded that they believed admission prices could be increased, cultural events have a positive impact on society and contribute to local economies, and they also impact how legislators think about the arts. Further, the respondents said the Connecticut General Assembly should do more to support the state’s cultural organizations.

“Zoos and Aquariums are always the most popular response any time we collect data like this,” Wilkening said. “Plays and musicals and contemporary music, such as concerts, usually fall in line right behind. It just makes sense that a museum won’t be quite as popular as say a Taylor Swift concert. But that is why we break things down by life cycles and where the respondents are in their life.”

There also was evidence from the survey that parents with children engaged in cultural events much more than single people – even older single people. While the largest number of donors to nonprofits usually come from people over 60, there also were many potential donors in the single middle-aged or married without children middle age category.

The study also showed that 42% of white people engage in cultural activities, versus 36% of black people.

“At the national level it is just about even at 40% between white and black people,” Wilkening said. “Here you have a little bit of ground to make up in that area but you are close.”

The LGBTQ community also was somewhat underrepresented in its engagement in cultural activities, but while those answering the survey said inclusivity was very important, they also didn’t believe that the cultural community in the state was putting up roadblocks.

“I think many museums and cultural activities worry that they have a much older clientele and don’t connect with the younger generations,” Wilkening added. “Respondents did not think that was the case. You may see the same older person over and over again because they are a regular, but the data shows that younger families are attending events and activities. So there is a lifeline there. Most also believe that cultural activities connect the communities they are in. For parents with kids, when it comes down to buying a membership to something it is purely transactional. They are trying to figure out how many times they would have to go to the place for the membership to be worth it.

“An important thing to do is make it easier for people to attend, either by lowering prices or not charging, make the place easier to find or get to, and publicize events more,” Wilkening said. “You are doing well but need to give new people an on-ramp to your events or places.”

Connecticut Humanities awarded 632 grants totaling $16.1 million in 2021, and another $8.5 million on 724 grants in 2022, helping to fund organizations involved in the arts, culture, and history.

Founded in 1974, Connecticut Humanities is an independent, non-profit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which connects people to the humanities through grants, partnerships, and collaborative programs. Connecticut Humanities projects, administration, and program development are supported by state and federal matching funds, community foundations, and gifts from private sources.