Half-empty museums and theatres: where is the cultural audience?

Cinemas and theaters are not nearly as full as before corona.Image ANP

Actually, this month is ideal to go to a museum. Or to a theater performance. It’s not busy, but not nearly as empty as just after corona. You often have the room almost to yourself to look at a painting in peace, and in the theater you can leave your bag on the seat next to you.

erratic image

But that space is by no means good news for the cultural sector. A month after the reopening, visitor numbers were disappointing. Two months later the picture is slightly better, but the old normal is far from being reached. However, the picture is erratic: the Melkweg has invariably been sold out in recent weeks, but the previously successful music evenings in the Bijlmerpark theater are only half full and the DeLaMar theater is also not seeing the recovery it had hoped for. How did that happen? Is fear of corona still playing tricks on visitors?

According to market researcher Hendrik Beerda, the older visitor does indeed still have corona fear, but there is more at play: “In times of corona, people have acquired other interests. Cultural visits are out of their pattern.” Due to all the corona closures, the offer has been confusing, he emphasizes: people no longer know what there is to do. “There used to be a cadence in the offer, which has been disrupted. People do not have their fixed pattern of subscriptions and seasonal brochures – these are important elements for the success of theater and cabaret, for example.” It does not help that inflation is high and visitors watch their money.

in the dark

Cultural institutions are groping in the dark as to why one thing works and the other doesn’t. The show The Gliphoeve the Bijlmerparktheater was packed for two weeks, says director Jolanda Spoel, but other productions are not going well. Flush can only guess at the reasons. “Fixed evenings don’t go so well, long series do.” She sees from her own agenda that the offer has been overwhelming since the reopening of the cultural sector in February. “There is a reservoir of performances. Everything that couldn’t play in corona time is on hold, so everyone is programming themselves. That way you spread the audience across many locations.”

Movie theaters have benefited from a blockbuster like Spider Man: No Way Homebut film-goers do not go as often as before corona, knows Boris van der Ham of the Dutch association for cinema operators Nvbf.

Museums are also waiting for recovery. Director of the Amsterdam Museum Judikje Kiers sees that the tourists are still missing. The Amsterdam Museum has recently moved temporarily from the Kalverstraat to the building of the Hermitage aan de Amstel, so the run-up is less anyway. “Apart from that comment, we notice that people are picking up the visit again in a dosed manner. They are more likely to opt for temporary exhibitions, because permanent exhibitions are always possible. And we have everything in place for at least six months.”


It is suggested here and there that practical problems such as fear of corona, expensive tickets, too much supply and a busy schedule are not the only reason for concern. There is also something to complain about in terms of content.

Andreas Fleischmann, director of DeLaMar, thinks that programming is sometimes too conservative. “New work has a hard time because the audience chooses things they think they will enjoy. The risk is that your offer will no longer match what a new generation needs.”

Marga Kroodsma, director of Veem House for dance and performance, also fears that focusing on great successes will create a monoculture. “You don’t just want to make popular art just to bring in that audience. You also need to take your audience seriously, challenge and make them think. There has to be room for the raw experiment.”

crackling pressure

Financially, it is exciting for many institutions. The corona support has almost stopped, but costs for gas, light and personnel are rising, while nobody wants to make the tickets more expensive with these visitor figures.

Good news came last week when Secretary of State Gunay Uslu (culture) announced an additional package of 135 million euros. There is also room for young makers, free producers and the 5 million euros for campaigns and for culture on TV, as a much-needed whip to get the audience back.

The Milky Way is not bothered by waning interest, says director Laura Vogelsang. The only real difference with pre-corona times has little to do with the amount of visitors: “Young people have not been able to go out for two years. The new crop really needs to learn that: they get drunk way too quickly.”

Reader Responses

Het Parool asked readers why they do or do not go to cultural events (again). The response was overwhelming, with over two thousand answers. Many readers wrote that they go less often than before. Reasons for their reluctance are fear of corona, new hobbies, but also ‘less bothered by fomo’ or: ‘I think it is too expensive’.

Other readers, on the other hand, have gone more often. ‘I had a lot to catch up on,’ one wrote, and ‘I couldn’t wait.’

A few more cite ‘laziness’ as the reason or ‘no time’, or ‘I don’t like crowded places anymore’. A specific group calls the QR code, which was mandatory in the cultural sector for a time, discriminatory. “They excluded me, now I exclude them.”

In terms of content, readers here and there also have something to say about the programming. ‘The offer is less appealing. Little diversity: often the same story is told,’ writes one reader. “There’s a lot on offer, but little of interest,” wrote another. And sometimes the reason is just very practical: ‘I had a baby during corona time.’

Leave a Comment