Fears that existing arts audiences resist ‘more diverse artistic product’ appear to be unfounded, ArtsProfessional’s latest Pulse survey suggests.

Photo of an audience

The biggest barrier to increasing the diversity of those who engage with arts and culture may be a perception issue, the findings of a new survey suggest.

Just over half of the 509 UK-based respondents to ArtsProfessional’s Pulse survey on diversity in the arts, agreed that ‘perceptions that your organisation is only relevant to your established audience’ was a barrier that their organisation faced when trying to be more diverse.

The third and final report on the survey, which was published this week, revealed that the sector is split on whether or not audiences actually resist ‘more diverse artistic product’, but this appears to be enough to put organisations off programming, producing and exhibiting it.

Who engages with the arts?

The latest data from England’s Taking Part survey shows that some sub-sections of society are less likely to engage with the arts, including those from lower socio-economic groups or black or ethnic minority backgrounds, and those with a long-standing illness or disability. Men and those aged 75 and over are also less likely to engage.

Respondents indicated that these fears are compounded by ‘inadequate funding’. One respondent said: “When you are struggling to survive, your priorities and passions focus on playing to the paying gallery! We become risk-averse and for us, this means programming rich old white acts for a rich old white audience.”

But the findings suggest these fears may be unfounded, with just 16% of respondents indicating that their organisation had had ‘bad experiences of diverse work that didn’t attract an audience’.

What should be done

Respondents called for more funding, training and initiatives to help with audience development, marketing and outreach. Many commented on the need for a sustained and long-term approach to shift the perceptions of those who believe the arts are ‘not for them’.

Some respondents were concerned by what they saw as the segregation of diverse artistic work within arts organisations’ programmes and an unsophisticated approach to marketing, which might limit audience development.

Many called for the arts to increase diversity in its workforce and revaluate the artistic work it produces, in order to attract a more diverse audience. One said: “We have to stop focusing on projects and start recognising that the entire organisation needs to change in order to be fit for purpose to serve a truly diverse audience.”

A photo of Frances Richens


Exacerbating the situation I believe is the growing nativist (nationalist) political identities in both the UK & US. Beaten down are the liberal universalist dreams that drew me into classical music as a young black-American in the 70s. What happened to the once widely-embraced hope that even black people could eventually embrace the classical arts? We as humans largely give up on classical humanism when the economy contracts, war is in the air, and the old cultural order feels threatened. There is perhaps a natural fear of cultural miscegenation in times of great fragmentation. The gut wants to preserve our cultural purity, for nostalgia.