War Cemeteries Are The Most Entertaining Places In The World, Just Not In The Way You Define It

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Did you know according to surveys conducted a few months ago, the most entertaining performance based organization in the world is the Sydney Opera House, followed by the Hollywood Bowl and the most entertaining exhibit based organization in the world is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial followed by the Gettysburg National Military Park?

If you are thinking, geez, people have a pretty morbid conception of what is entertaining if they are listing two military cemeteries ahead of The Louvre (#3 on the list), according to Colleen Dilenschneider and her colleagues at IMPACTS Experience, it is actually how the general public defines entertaining that is different from how arts organizations define the term. (subscription required)

You may have read my earlier post about Dilenschneider’s research which finds people have a hard time discerning whether your arts organization is a non-profit or not, even if you tell them, so you’ll appreciate just how much work she and her colleagues are doing to show arts professional and creative insiders how their perceptions differ from those of program participants. She notes that for a lot of arts professionals “entertaining” is associated with superficial, trivial, and frivolous experiences, whereas their goal is to provide deep, meaningful, educational experiences.

The reality is, those are the same concepts cited by people who ranked places like the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial as having high entertainment value.  The top five adjectives used were: Inspiring, Beautiful, Meaningful, Powerful, and Moving.

It should be noted, all the answers provided in these surveys were to open ended questions. Respondents weren’t given a list of organizations or adjectives to choose from. The places that rose to the top of lists as being entertaining were apparently at the top of people’s minds.  I should also note that not everyone in the world was asked to identify the most entertaining places in the world. Respondents were mostly in North America, Western Europe, Central Europe, Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

As you may begin to discern, it is the overall context of an experience that determines whether a place is considered entertaining or not. The same is true for performing arts organizations which tend to be more comfortable with being considered entertaining. (Though there is certainly still a sense of delineation between what is a real experience and what is frivolous.) So what IMPACTS learned might be disappointing to many performing arts organizations – the context in which the experience occurs influences the perception of entertainment more than the quality of the experience.

Experiencing a performance in an iconic setting reliably contributes to elevated entertainment ratings across multiple programs and experiences by the same presenting organization. Similarly, we’ve found that the exact same “entertaining” performance can be perceived as more or less entertaining depending on the location of that performance.

[…]

People believe the Sydney Opera House to be the most entertaining performance-based organization in the world, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that every single performance presented within its walls is reliably and equally entertaining. Instead, this location may be most strongly cited because the art, architecture, and iconic nature of this space extends beyond individual performances. Similarly, seeing a performance “on Broadway” contributes to higher entertainment scores

One of the sub-headers in Dilenschneider’s post sums it up ““Entertaining” can mean meaningful – not meaningless.” People participating in an experience can deem it entertaining because they found it meaningful to them. Her post has tons and tons of great data and insight that is best read at the source.

Having read all this research, you may be struck with dismay because your organization doesn’t operate in an iconic structure or arts district, but it should be noted that when asked what entertaining mean in the context of cultural organizations, “something you want to share” and “unique” followed terms like “inspiring, engaging, meaningful, relevant, and fun”. It is absolutely possible to create experiences which are meaningful, relevant, unique and something people want to share within the context of a smaller organization in a manner that larger organizations are entirely unable.

Smaller organizations can involve participants in silly activities and fun videos that connect with a community in ways larger organizations can’t. On my personal blog, I have written about museums that provided anyone who wanted to wander in with an opportunity to hang out with noted artists and gallery owners who were serving themselves out of a pot of jambalaya on the stove. Nina Simon has talked about creating pop-up museum exhibits to failed relationships in a bar.

Even if the terms listed above don’t match your definition of entertaining, you likely understand they describe the experiences people in your community are seeking.

About Joe Patti

AvatarIn addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats (buttsseats.com) since 2004.
I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (https://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)
I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO.

Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.

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