Understanding Culture – The Power of a Cross-Sector Collaborative Response to the COVID-19 Crisis



In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Shortly thereafter doors began to shut—in office spaces, in retail environments, restaurants, and cultural organizations and experiences, such as museums, theatres and musical performances. This time, the show didn’t go on.

As the world changed so rapidly, almost overnight, it became clear that the future would be different. Raising important questions for cultural organizations—what should they be doing now and in the coming months? Where do they fit in people’s lives now and in the future? How are people feeling about missing out on culture?

With so many unknowns, Slover Linett, an audience research, evaluation, and consulting firm for cultural organizations, and LaPlaca Cohen, a strategy and marketing agency for the cultural sector, set about to ask.

The study aimed to provide timely, actionable information to cultural organizations in crisis during COVID-19. Working from the view that relevance and resilience are two-way streets, the researchers set out to understand what people and communities need from their cultural organizations during and after the crises as well as what cultural organizations can expect from communities. Speaking to both the general public and cultural attendees, they looked to understand: How can (and should) cultural organizations reinvent themselves to deepen and broaden engagement when they’re able to re-open? Further, what are people missing now that they can’t experience the arts, and how can organizations stay connected with audiences with their venues (and revenues) shuttered.

Research Questions

Research Questions:

Understanding Culture - The Power of a Cross-Sector Collaborative Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

How can cultural organizations help their communities and audiences get through this pandemic?

Understanding Culture - The Power of a Cross-Sector Collaborative Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

How can communities and audiences help cultural organizations emerge stronger and more committed to the needs to the community?

Understanding Culture - The Power of a Cross-Sector Collaborative Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

How can we use the crisis as a spark for adaptation and to make progress on long-standing problems?

the Partners

This research wouldn’t have been possible without a truly cross-sector collaboration and partnership. A confluence of conversations with like-minded thinkers across the field resulted in lead funding support for the study from the Wallace Foundation, with additional funding from Art Bridges and the Terra Foundation. Industry leaders FocusVision and Microsoft each contributed critical and substantial in-kind support to the work. And a group of over twenty leaders across the cultural sector agreed to help shape and advise on the research as well as fellow consulting firms Advisory Board for the Arts and Wilkening Consulting. Finally, over 650 cultural organizations participated in the research contributing to the collective sample of cultural attenders.

Our Partners:

LaPlaca Cohen the research contributing to the collective sample
the research contributing to the collective sample

In association with:

NORC at the University of Chicago
Advisory board for the Arts
Wilkening Consulting

Supported by:

Barr Foundation
Art Bridges
Terra foundation for american art

How Was It

To get a read on the perspective of arts and culture attenders, Slover Linett invited any primarily adult-serving arts and culture organization in the United States to send the survey to a portion of its audience email lists. This was at no cost to the organizations and participating organizations received access to their data along with comparisons to the total national dataset.

The opportunity was first publicized through emails to their networks of clients and colleagues and targeted outreach to small and culturally-specific cultural organizations.

Additionally, they worked in partnership with service organiza-tions that promoted the study and encouraged participation on the part of their members including the American Alliance of Museums, the League of American Orchestras, Opera America, the American Public Garden Association, and the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities. The interest in participation far exceeded initial expectations, and the ability to allow any and all interested cultural organizations was made possible by FocusVision’s provision of the FocusVision Decipher survey software platform.

Participating cultural organizations:

Participating cultural organizations


Museums and Collections1


Performing Arts2


Arts Schools and Services


Visual Arts and Photography3


Film, Radio, and Television

1. Includes Zoos, Aquaria, Historic Societies, Botanical Gardens/Arboretums. 2. Includes Music, Theater, Dance, Opera, Performers, Services/Facilities. 3. Includes Crafts and Services.

A few of the participating cultural organizations:

San Francisco Symphony
Carnegie Hall
New Orleans Museum of Art
Apollo Theater New York
The Andy Warhol Museum
The Exploratorium San Francisco, California
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Getty Museum
California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco
The Crocker Art Museum, formerly the E. B. Crocker Art Gallery
Frank Lloyd Wright
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Museum of Modern Art
Alley Theatre
Saint Louis Zoo
Atlanta Botanical Garden
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Smithsonian Institution
Field Museum
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Denver Zoo
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Art Institute of Chicago

FocusVision’s Role

As the effort quickly outpaced the initial goal of 50 participating organizations with a sample size of 10,000 to 650 organizations with over 100,000 participants, new challenges arose from the scale of the project. At the forefront of survey design was security and compliance across the different individual use lists and protecting PII (Personal Identifying Information). To address these challenges, Slover Linett and FocusVision worked closely to ensure a smooth path.

FocusVision’s Role

Managing the Scale

Managing the Scale FocusVision

FocusVision teams took several measures to ensure the right systems were in place for seamless fielding of the study while also safeguarding the integrity of ongoing client work.

FocusVision teams took several measuresPrepared for over 200,000
survey completes.

FocusVision teamsCreated a separate directory for the project within the FocusVision Decipher platform, allowing for direct assessment and traffic management.

While Slover Linett devised a survey invite strategy

While Slover Linett devised a survey invite strategy to manage the number of participants attempting to complete the survey at any given time.

Slover Linett devisedSurvey invite and reminder scheduling strategy was devised to keep responses within a 6,500
per hour threshold.

Slover Linett devised

over 2 Million survey invites were sent.

Data Privacy and Security

To adhere to data privacy and security regulations, each participating cultural organization was responsible for selecting participants from their mailing lists and distributing the survey using a link unique to their organization.

Data Privacy and Security

Greater than 650 survey links

were generated so each participating cultural organization had a unique URL meaning their data can be isolated.

This approach circumvented the need for PII exchange and allowed some tailoring of the individual surveys according to organizational requirements. For example, some Internal Review Boards wouldn’t approve the provision of incentives through a drawing, so their survey language was tailored to exclude that language. Likewise, Canadian organizations received surveys with distinct demographic categories for education and race & ethnicity that better reflect their context.

Data Privacy and Security

2,000 participants

came from AmeriSpeak, a probability panel representative of the US general population

Helping Hands

The FocusVision team was there every step of the way with Slover Linett, answering programming questions (as they programmed in-house) and monitoring field progress.

FocusVision team was there every step of the way

FocusVision team members

2 Site Reliability

4 Helpdesk team


FocusVision team was there every step of the way with Slover Linett

The Helpdesk team fielded 4 inquires / trouble shooting with the Slover Linett team, resulting in over 35 back-forth conversations.

I’ve worked with several support team members in the past couple weeks and all have been excellent at providing me answers timely and thinking through issues with me.

—Matthew Jenetopulos,
Lead Researcher on the
project for Slover Linett
FocusVision team was there every step of the way

Coordination between customer success, helpdesk, and SRE teams were critical to ensure on time delivery and successful data collection. CSM worked with Site Reliability Engineers (SRE) teams to monitor traffic influx on an hourly basis

FocusVision team was there every step of the way with Slover Linett

Number of issues solved on the fly:


Things went so smoothly that there wasn’t a need to jump in with an emergency fix!

—Matt Dill,
Global Director Client Services at FocusVision,

Methodology Note

Methodology Note

The questionnaire was designed with the participant in mind:

15-minute survey

Optional additional 5-minute question module (with high uptake)

Used a variety of question types

Applied programing features such as looping and piping to reduce participant burden

Result: a study of remarkable scale.

Methodology Note


Methodology Note


Methodology Note


The research provides a ‘state of the union’ during Covid-19 on the cultural landscape that will help inform strategy for all participating cultural organizations on both a macro and micro level, as they are able to dig into their data, while considering overall responses.

The data from 124,000 participants has created a dataset of unparalleled scope that wouldn’t have been achieved without the cross-sector collaboration of all involved. For FocusVision’s part, we were able to readily meet the needs of an extremely large study, with many partners and stakeholders and even more participants. We worked side-by-side with Slover Linett through-out the entire process to ensure success. Collaboration really does take us far.

Within the first two weeks of the report being released, cultural organizations were already reporting that they’re using the research to inform reopening timing and communications strategies, the development of new digital offerings, the communication of safety protocols, leadership-level strategy changes in service of diversity and inclusion, among many others.

─ Jen Benoit-Bryan,
PhD, Vice President and
Co-director of Research
at Slover Linett.

A Key Findings report, methodology, and the survey instrument are all available at https://culturetrack.com/research/reports/.

Key Findings report
Culture and Community in Time of Crisis

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