Conducted by the international arts consulting firm WolfBrown, and sponsored locally by the non-profit arts marketing and advocacy group ArtsBoston and the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Audience Outlook Monitor (AOM) is a longitudinal survey to keep tabs on arts attendees thoughts, concerns and intentions as the pandemic — and the state’s reopening guidelines — evolve.

The pandemic has been devastating for arts organizations hit from all sides. The survey proves what we know arts organizations and artists are already grappling with — it’s going to be a long road back and it won’t be an easy one. Pre-COVID, the cultural sector brought $2 billion of direct and secondary annual economic impact to Greater Boston. The arts employed as many people as the pre-pandemic retail industry, and kept the city a vibrant place to live, work and visit. In the past, arts goers outnumbered sports fans four times over. And arts visitors spent more money in restaurants, retail stores and other places than any other category of tourist.

We are an industry that is critical to the state’s economic comeback and overall emotional recovery.


More than 3,000 Boston-area arts goers from 16 Boston cultural organizations were surveyed in June 2020.  Phase One has been completed and the results are in.


  • Arts audiences are eager (91%) to come back but they are clear that it won’t be possible until public health conditions improve.  That might be with a vaccine or much-improved treatment protocols.
  • A majority of arts audiences (55%) don’t expect to return to cultural events until at least January 2021.
  • Boston audiences are resilient.  88% said the pandemic would have no substantial impact on their long-term attendance, provided theaters and music halls are safe to come back to.
  • Boston audiences plan to spend money on the arts.
    • Eighty-nine percent (89%) of respondents indicated they planned to spend as much money or more on subscriptions, tickets, memberships, and admissions, with the average respondent saying their spending would remain at 99% of previous levels.
    • Ninety-six percent (96%) of patrons indicated they will maintain similar or larger donations to organizations they previously supported.

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Localized Learning Outcomes

Specific survey questions include:

  • Comfort level engaging in activities requiring public interaction (dining, using public transport, etc.)
  • Attendance behaviors (actual ticket purchase, making plans to attend at a future date)
  • Anticipated spending in relation to pre-crisis levels
  • Anticipated impact on philanthropic giving
  • Attitudes about going to venues if distancing requirements persevere
  • At-home arts participation during isolation

Timeline / Methodology

ArtsBoston is deploying the survey bi-weekly to its email list of local arts attendees starting on May 15. In addition, ArtsBoston is supporting the participation of a cohort of 15 arts organizations of varying genres/sizes, which will deploy the survey to their patrons in June, August and October. Results will be analyzed and shared in comparison to other participating cities, including Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, as well as regionally to provide a local, real-time lens.

Participating Arts Organizations in the Boston Cohort

Actors' Shakespeare Project Logo
American Repertory Theater Logo
ArtsEmerson Logo
Boston Symphony Orchestra Logo
Celebrity Series of Boston Logo
Central Square Theater
Company One Theatre Logo
The Dance Complex Logo
Emerson Colonial Theatre
Global Arts Live Logo
Handel and Haydn Society Logo
Huntington Theatre Company logo
Lyric Stage Company Logo
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Logo
Museum of Science, Boston logo

Many thanks to the City of Boston, Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture for its support of the cohort participation.