A new report focusing on attendance, participation and attitudes to the arts and culture among Black and minority ethnic communities has been published by Arts Council England. Clare Fenn and Ann Bridgwood provide highlights of the first national picture of how our culturally diverse population engages with the arts and culture.
Policy makers, practitioners, venue managers, programmers, curators and those working in arts marketing, audience development, arts and cultural education and lifelong learning all need reliable, up-to-date information if they are to engage with diverse audiences in a strategic and targeted way. However, although there have been local or small-scale studies of Black and minority ethnic attendance and participation, there has never previously been a large-scale, national study.
Bridging the gap
To bridge this gap, Arts Council England (ACE), Resource and the UK Film Council commissioned the Office for National Statistics to carry out a survey of attendance, participation and attitudes to the arts and culture among Black and minority ethnic adults in England. The results were combined with those from a previous study (Skelton et al, 2002) to present a picture of cultural engagement across all the largest ethnic groups, including white people, in England. In total, 7,667 people were interviewed.
The findings from this research show very high levels of support for arts and culture. For example, when asked whether ‘Arts and cultural projects should receive public funding’:
90% of the Black or British Black sample, 85% of people of mixed ethnicity, 79% of Asians or British Asians, 75% of Chinese and other ethnic groups and 74% of white respondents agreed that they should. Similarly, very high proportions agreed that ‘The arts play a valuable role in the life of the country’. This was true of 86% of the Black or British Black sample, 82% of people of mixed ethnicity, 78% of Chinese and other ethnic groups, 75% of Asians or British Asians and 73% of white respondents.
There was also widespread recognition of the value of the arts and libraries. 87% of Black or British Black and 84% of mixed ethnicity respondents thought that ‘Arts from different cultures contribute a lot to this country’, as did 71% of white respondents and Chinese and other ethnic groups. Nine out of ten respondents agreed or strongly agreed that libraries provide a valuable service to their local community.
Attendance was high in all ethnic groups. The proportion who had attended at least one arts event in the last year ranged from 91% of the mixed ethnicity group to 77% of those describing themselves as Asian or British Asian (Figure 1). Going to see a film at a cinema or other venue was the most widespread activity. 82% of people of mixed ethnicity, 66% of Asians or British Asians, 63% of the Black or British Black sample, 60% of Chinese and other ethnic groups and 56% of white respondents had been to see a film in the last year.
Other interesting findings include: Asian or British Asian respondents were most likely to have attended a culturally specific festival (32%). This was particularly true of those identifying themselves as Indian, 41% of whom reported doing this. Just over one third of interviewees had visited a museum or art gallery. People of mixed ethnicity (44%), white (36%) and Black or British Black (32%) respondents were more likely to have visited than Asian or British Asian respondents (25%). The highest proportions of those visiting or using libraries in the last year were found among Black African (60%), and Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents (58%).
Reasons for attending events
Wanting to see a ‘specific performer or event’ was the most common reason for attending. This was mentioned by 28% of people of mixed ethnicity, 27% of Black or British Black respondents, 13% of Asian or British Asian interviewees and 10% of Chinese and other ethnic groups. Pakistani or Bangladeshi respondents were most likely to say that they attended as part of a social event; 35% gave this as a reason.
The majority of respondents in all ethnic groups said that they would be interested in attending more – either more events, or more frequently. 85% of Black or British Black respondents expressed an interest in increasing their attendance, as did 82% of the mixed ethnicity group, 71% of those from Chinese and other ethnic groups, 70% of Asian or British Asian respondents and 62% of the white sample.
People were also asked what prevented them from attending (more). The most common reason was ‘lack of time’, mentioned by, for example, 65% of people of mixed ethnicity and 61% of Asians or British Asians. People of mixed ethnicity (45%) and Chinese and other ethnic groups (42%) were most likely to cite cost as a barrier.
People interviewed for the survey were asked whether they took part themselves, as opposed to seeing performances or work by other people, in a wide range of artistic and cultural activities. The results showed high levels of participation, ranging from 95% of people of mixed ethnicity to 80% of the Asian or British Asian sample. Black or British Black respondents were most likely to have sung to an audience or rehearsed for a musical performance in the last 12 months (14%, compared with 6% of both the mixed ethnicity group and Chinese and other ethnic groups, 4% of white respondents and 3% of Asians or British Asians). Black or British Black respondents were most likely to belong to choirs or vocal groups – 15% of Black Africans and 11% of Black Caribbeans mentioned this.
Access through media
More than 90% of people from all ethnic groups had accessed the arts through a variety of audio-visual media – CD, mini disc, tape or record; television, video or DVD; or radio – in the last four weeks or on the Internet in the last 12 months. Rock or pop music was the most commonly viewed or heard genre on CD, radio and television. Asian or British Asian respondents were more likely to have listened to Asian radio stations than rock or pop on other radio stations (53% compared with 46%). Some may, of course, have listened to rock or pop on these Asian stations.
The proportion of respondents listening to jazz and classical music on CD, mini disc, tape or record, or on the radio during the four weeks before interview was generally higher than the proportion experiencing the same music at a live venue in the last 12 months. More than one in five people of mixed ethnicity and from Chinese and other ethnic groups had used the Internet to buy tickets or find out about arts events in the last year.
Taking the research forward
We now have a fuller picture of arts activity in England among people from all ethnic backgrounds, and the report, ‘Focus on cultural diversity: the arts in England’, documents these findings. It shows the importance of the arts in many people’s lives, and how extensively people are engaged with them. However, although the results show encouraging levels of support for the arts, there is a continued need to build and widen audiences. To support this process ACE will work with colleagues both nationally and regionally to ensure the findings are disseminated as widely as possible.
Ann Bridgwood is Director of Research and Clare Fenn is Assistant Research Officer for Arts Council England. t: 020 7973 6992; e: email@example.com
The full report can be accessed at http://www.artscouncil.org.uk. Data from the 2001 and 2002 research is held in the UK Data Archive at Essex University http://www.data-archive.ac.uk