Skip to main content

Cultural organizations, like museums, aquariums, and planetariums, have been slowly and cautiously reopening, exhibiting many strategies and tactics that have worked well to support and serve patrons. At Adage, we work with museums like the Met Museum and Norman Rockwell Museum as well as countless performing arts organizations such as The Cleveland Orchestra, Lyric Opera, and SFJAZZ. We view this as an opportunity to share knowledge across clients and dive into what arts organizations can learn from museums during COVID-19.

In a recent blog post, Adage rounded-up suggestions for cultural organizations to consider as they tackle the task of reopening. While state regulations and the feasibility of reopening may vary from institution to institution, we believe there’s a lot of value in identifying some successes of venues that have been able to reopen to patrons. So, what can arts organizations learn from museums and cultural institutions’ reopening efforts? Let’s take a look at three major areas: pre-visit patron communication, modifications to the physical space, and digital enhancements to increase your audience.

Pre-Visit Patron Communication

The customer experience starts long before they arrive at your venue. It’s necessary to make your patrons feel safe and informed to convert a website visitor into a ticket holder. For venues able to reopen, having clear and consistent messaging is critical. We already mentioned that every venue has a different setup and different policies. The variability can be incredibly overwhelming and confusing to a potential visitor. Have a link to your COVID policies featured prominently on your homepage, and reiterate that policy throughout the Plan Your Visit page, ticket purchase page, and confirmation email. The Norman Rockwell Museum has excellent information in the “Code of Courtesy” section of their Plan Your Visit Page. For a great example of visitor guidelines detailed throughout the ticket purchase path, check out The Met Museum!

Modifications to Physical Space

Entering the Space

One of the most successful practices we’ve seen from museums and cultural institutions that have been able to reopen is the implementation of timed-entry tickets. How can this translate to theater patrons who are all seeing a show at the same time? There is still value in staggering your patron arrival time to ensure social distancing throughout the seating process. Adage’s SmartSeat for Social Distancing automatically adds a parameter around a patron’s selected seats in the select-your-own-seat (SYOS) system. Try adding an arrival time associated with seating sections to minimize potential crowding in entryways and bathrooms before the event. Many performing arts patrons are accustomed to arriving at the venue early for a show, so again, it will be imperative to reiterate your COVID policies, including timed arrival throughout your purchase path, confirmation, and reminder emails.

During the Show

Now, what about the event itself? How do productions look and feel differently to accommodate social distancing? We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we have spent a good deal of time listening to ideas and suggestions from organizations around the world. Touching a playbill, brushing shoulders with a fellow patron, and waiting for an autograph at the stage door are just a few examples of patron experiences that can only happen in a specific moment within a particular place – live performing arts.

Museums and cultural institutions can limit the number of visitors and stagger entry to exhibitions as patrons move through. While indeed not a traditional theater model, a moving, experiential theater production is not unheard of.

Some performing arts organizations are considering the following adaptations as ways to limit touch points and decrease crowding in the venue.

  1. experiential theater
  2. theater in the round
  3. smaller ensembles
  4. less set and costume changes

Digital Enhancements to Increase Audience

Time and time again, Adage has heard performing arts organizations express that having a more robust digital presence was on the to-do list, and now suddenly, it’s the top item on the list.

Online maps, educational resources, and hand-held audio guides have long been tools of museums and attractions. To eliminate physical touchpoints, we have entered the age of the digital theater program. Consider including your playbill or show program along with the ticket confirmation or pre-visit email communication. If possible, include a digital copy on your website to go paperless.

Many arts organizations are considering adding the option for patrons to purchase digital access to a performance if they do not feel comfortable attending the live event. Likewise, patrons who attend the live production can access the digital content following the event. This kind of add-on is an excellent way to give your guests options based on their comfort level or to give a potential future customer a taste of what your organization offers.

What Can Performing Arts Organizations Learn from Museums?

Reviewing all of these possible solutions can be overwhelming – lots of trying to make lemonade with nearly rotten lemons. The arts, culture, and entertainment industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Attempting to find a bright side, this is an opportunity to share the innovation and creative thinking we’ve observed in efforts to engage and uplift patrons. When organizations reopen (and they will reopen!) these innovations and new ideas will carry into the future as patrons return. And a definitive thing we can confirm as museums and cultural institutions have carefully reopened is just that, patrons will return!

Looking for more pandemic resources? Check out this compilation of articles for arts, culture, and entertainment organizations.