Press Release

New Research Shows How Distance Matters as a Barrier to Arts Participation

Dallas, TX

SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) today released a white paper describing the behavior patterns of arts audiences and how the distance between households and arts venues influences the likelihood of arts participation.

Through this examination, this report is designed to promote a deeper understanding of the opportunities that exist to better satisfy the needs of arts audiences and to remove real and perceived barriers to arts attendance. Read the white paper on NCAR’s website. The research was supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

As expected, as the distance between a household and an arts venue increases, the propensity to purchase decreases. Taking a more nuanced look at the issue, the paper asks three central questions:

  • What distances are relevant?
  • To what extent do community and household characteristics influence the relationship between distance and participation?
  • What other market factors affect patronage?

“A key driver of successful audience building initiatives is a profound understanding of how cultural consumers calculate not only the benefits but also the real and perceived costs of engaging with an arts offering,” said NCAR Director Zannie Voss. “This paper sets out to highlight critical factors that influence a consumer’s decision of whether to attend or not to attend the arts, the barriers and opportunities in attracting cultural audiences, and their potential implications for arts organizations as well as cultural and urban planners around the country.”

In order to examine the purchase likelihood for households surrounding individual organizations, NCAR analyzed box office data in five markets, obtained through partnership with TRG Arts, for a total of 90 visual arts, performing arts, and community-based organizations that collectively serve 2.4 million unique households. Key findings from the report include:

  • The arts are radically local.

Data analysis shows that distance plays a more critical role than initially estimated. Based on research findings in other settings, NCAR researchers assumed that arts purchase likelihood would gradually decrease with distance, dropping by 80% for households that were roughly seven miles from an arts organization. However, the report reveals that in the average community, the likelihood of patronage drops off much sooner—it’s down by 80% at about the one-mile mark. 

  • The arts become even more radically local for those in low socioeconomic communities.

Socioeconomic characteristics heavily influence behavior patterns of arts audiences. Although households with higher income and education are more likely to participate in the arts and are more willing to travel greater distances to attend, lower income households are more likely to be deterred by distance as the non-monetary costs such as the hassle of travel compound the financial barriers of attending. At a distance of approximately one mile, the report shows that high income households have 17% greater purchase likelihood than households in low income neighborhoods. 

  • Population density has a modest effect on propensity to purchase – but it has a negative impact at greater distances.

A household in a densely populated neighborhood is less likely to purchase if it is located further away from an arts organization. At the same distance, a household in a low-density area has a higher propensity to purchase. 

  • Arts organizations in leisure destinations benefit from an overall increase in purchase likelihood as these districts attract more people from greater distances.

The report shows that organizations surrounded by complementary leisure attractions (including bars, restaurants, and hotels) enjoy a 5% increase above the baseline purchase likelihood from neighborhoods located three miles away. At greater distances—at about 19 miles—purchase likelihood is nearly 60% higher for organizations that have restaurants, bars, and hotels nearby. At these distances, people perceive distance as less of a barrier to attending as it means they are able to couple their arts participation with other leisure activities.

  • Given the choice, people demonstrate a preference for staying in the neighborhood.

In markets with intense arts and cultural activity, people are more likely to attend, and they are especially more likely to attend organizations close to home.  When they have no choices nearby, they are more likely to travel further if doing so means accessing a concentrated arts district.  

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Courtesy: SMU Meadows School

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