As data-oriented arts and culture consultants, we often hear from current and prospective clients:
“We have funding to help us grow the Millennial audience (one could also substitute in to this statement an audience subset based on one of a variety of demographic characteristics…). We plan to create a totally unique performance experience and a special sidecar social experience. Help us measure the impact.”
Many efforts to reach Millennials have been well-crafted and in many ways successful, and yet this focus on one particular generation has caused TRG to ask, "What role can Millennials be expected to play in the sustainability of the arts today and in the future?" To answer this question, we turned as usual to data to see what findings we could uncover about this mysteriously under-represented audience.
The national data trends that TRG has found are not based on sampling data with a margin for error. Rather, we directly studied 15.5 million transaction records from 110 performing arts organizations across the country. Under the leadership of Lead Data Analyst Nariman Tulepkaliev, TRG has updated its national data trends and seeks to understand what transactional data (not surveys) can tell us about how Millennials participate in the arts.
Among performing arts organizations, Millennials did increase their share of patronage over the past 7 years, however they are still the smallest proportion among cohorts of generations. Generation X also saw a proportionality of attendance increase during the study period, though at a slower rate than Millennials. Generation X is beginning to see over representation in the audience makeup as compared to the general population, a trend that will continue as more Gen Xers move into the Empty Nest phase of life. Millennials, even with the growth observed, are still not participating in the arts at a rate commiserate with the size of the generational cohort.
On average, the proportionality of Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation declined 2% over the past 8 years due to significant increase in Generation Z.
We have heard the same anecdotal information as you: Millennials are more generous than other generational cohorts, especially at their age. TRG's research reflects otherwise for the arts and culture, with only 3% of Millennials making a donation during the study period (and is supported by the AFP). The question remains: is this a generational trait or a matter of life stage?
Through our continual study of attendance trends, TRG's definition of loyalty is a combination of characteristics; frequency of attendance being just one.
Additionally, TRG studies the rate of entrances of new audiences into an organization's database, the rate of attendance among current patrons, as well as the exit rate of both new and existing patron groups. In the end, if a patron doesn't stick, they're not loyal. Therefore, attrition is a key indicator of loyalty.
The following charts affirm what we saw #1 above:
“Stickiness” to an organization is not the only loyalty indicator TRG studies; we also look at the likelihood to multi-transact. When studying the behavior of generational cohorts in the realm of donation and subscription, the same story appears: Millennials are giving and subscribing, but not at the same rate as older audiences.
Bottom line: Millennials are in a phase of their life when they are “playing the field” and the field assumes the reasons for these less loyal behaviors are intrinsic to Millennials - it is too early to prove this case. Smart organizations will not resign themselves to an inevitable decrease in loyalty among this group but will rather continue to encourage them to sample work and deepen their engagement. And, it’s wise to remain courting them as they continue to “date.”
When will Millennials be prepared to “go steady”? That’s the exciting challenge – your art can create that connection faster than is typical. But it will take more than one-off parties or experiences disconnected from the art to romance them.
Resident population in the United States in 2017
Resident population in the United States in 2010 (data from Census tables are converted to generational definitions)
Generational definitions by Pew Research Center
March 14-15, 2019 - TRG Arts Executive Summit; York, England
May 9-10, 2019 - TRG Arts Executive Summit; Colorado Springs, CO