By 2045, the number of Hispanic individuals in the Greater Houston area is expected to outnumber all other ethnic groups combined, and the shift to a majority-minority population is already present as non-Hispanic white individuals comprise less than half of the population in Texas, according to the Texas Demographic Center. These demographic changes call for a rapid evolution from arts and cultural organizations as they already under-represent the area’s diverse population in workforce as well as audiences.
“Advancement toward a future where everyone has equal opportunity to participate in the arts begins with a baseline understanding of who works in and attends the arts today,” said Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts. “Our findings point to areas of opportunity for growth and change.”
Over the course of 2 years, we conducted a three-part study to determine the demographic make-up of arts and cultural organizations’ workforce and audiences compared to the demographics of the general population in the Greater Houston area. The third part of the study was a pilot test of our Audience Opportunity Tool, which shows arts and cultural organizations how likely households are to attend events based on where they reside. This effort was funded by Houston Endowment, a private foundation that works to advance equity of opportunity for the people of greater Houston and enhance the vibrancy of the region.
“We believe that arts are critical to a vibrant community. While we recognize that there are significant barriers that may prevent Houstonians’ full engagement with the arts, we believe that the first step to broadening arts audiences is knowing arts audiences,” said Long Chu, program officer at Houston Endowment. “But knowing your audience can require resources and expertise many arts groups simply don’t have. We hope SMU DataArts’ new tool will make gathering and synthesizing demographic data more accessible for Houston arts groups.”
1. Non-Hispanic white individuals make up only one-third of Harris County residents, yet three-quarters of the arts and cultural workforce and over two-thirds of audiences. However, as the births of children of color have been outnumbering non-Hispanic white births since 2007, this imbalance in the ecosystem may begin to shift towards a more representative body as younger individuals enter and move up in the workforce as well as engage as audience members.
2. Organizations with budgets over $10 million have a workforce that is 73% non-Hispanic white, whereas the workforce at smaller organizations with budgets under $250k is about 50% white, indicating that small organizations tend to be more racially and ethnically diverse in staff than large organizations.
3. Age demographics of the arts and cultural organizations closely align with the adult population of the Greater Houston area. Also, general staff members tend to be younger: 43% are under the age of 35, while only 8% of senior staff are.
4. Women and LGBTQ individuals have a larger representation in arts and cultural organizations than in the adult population of the Greater Houston area. Females make up 50% of the general population and 65% of arts and culture employees. About 3% of Harris County residents identify as LGBTQ, while 13% of arts and culture workers do – more than four times as many – and 9% of audience members do.
5. Free programming attracts more diverse audiences than paid programming, while members or subscribers tend to be less diverse than single ticket admission patrons.
6. Arts patrons in Harris County tend to have higher levels of education and income compared to the general adult population.
 Frey, William H., “US White population declines and Generation ‘Z-Plus’ is minority White, census shows,” Brookings Institution, June 22, 2018, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2018/06/21/us-white-population-declines-and-generation-z-plus-is-minority-white-census-shows/
While these findings are specific to the Greater Houston area, key concepts may still apply to your community as well. The shift in population demographics and initiatives towards a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable society can be found nationwide. Here are three questions that may shed light on the challenges (or successes) that your arts and cultural organization faces.
1. Do you have accurate documentation of your workforce demographics? Are you using that information to guide a holistic strategy towards equity?
2. Are you collecting demographic information from your audience? How can you capture the data you need without taking up too much time and annoying your patrons? If you regularly send post-event emails, is there an opportunity to capture demographic information along with patron feedback?
3. Is your programming limiting your audience reach potential? Who is left out and how can you develop captivating programming to engage with a wider audience? Are there opportunities for partnerships with other organizations in your area to gain more interest?
The Audience Opportunity Tool can help identify which segments of the population are under-served and where an organization can direct its efforts to both broaden and diversify its audience base.
This tool is designed to provide specific market data to help arts and cultural organizations develop their audiences. Using long-term arts patronage data from several million households in five U.S. markets, we built a model that can estimate the likelihood that someone living in a particular neighborhood will attend an arts organization’s offerings, considering their distance from the organization, sociodemographic characteristics, and the community’s characteristics.
To use the tool, arts leaders input their organization’s location, arts sector, budget size and average ticket price. The Audience Opportunity Tool then provides a map that displays every neighborhood within 30 miles of their venue location, color-coded to show the likelihood of attendance from that neighborhood, and how many purchases they can expect. Clicking on a neighborhood provides detailed information such as number of households, racial and ethnic diversity, socioeconomic levels and more.
Although we were able to conduct pilot testing of the tool for this research initiative, we are continuing to develop and refine it in several markets across the country before making it available to arts and cultural organizations publicly.