The Arts Council of England (ACE) will shortly publish a new report, ?Arts in England: attendance, participation and attitudes in 2001?. It will contain the results of research carried out with over 6,000 adults late last year to find out what arts activities people had been to or taken part in during the year, and what their attitudes towards the arts were. Adrienne Skelton summarises why and how this research was commissioned and highlights some of the key findings emerging from it.
The Arts Council of England?s first large-scale survey for ten years reveals just how people are engaging with the arts in the early 21st century. The benefits of having such wide-ranging and up-to-date information are numerous, and the information will be particularly useful for those involved with cultural planning, audience development, access and marketing.

Solid evidence

As a funding body, ACE needs to understand how people are engaging with the arts in order to inform policy and planning. There are several initiatives underway aimed at increasing access to the arts, including the New Audiences Programme. This research provides us with reliable information on who is currently taking part, and their attitudes and motivation. It also ensures that our policies are built upon a solid evidence base and on information provided by the people that we are seeking to serve. For example, we now know that younger people are more likely to attend events than older people, but also that they are the least likely to believe that the arts play an important role in their lives, or in the life of the country.

Having this information also supports us in making a convincing case to government for increased funding for the arts. We now have reliable evidence on the levels of cultural engagement in England (79% of adults had attended arts and cultural events in the last year) and of an overwhelmingly positive attitude to the arts. In time we will be able to look at any trends or patterns of engagement, and we plan to undertake similar research on a regular basis, to ensure the picture remains current and useful.

A broad picture

The objectives of the research were to:

? Assess levels and frequency of attendance at arts and cultural events
? Assess levels and frequency of participation in arts and cultural activities
? Assess levels of participation in arts and cultural activities through broadcast and recorded media
? Measure attitudes towards public subsidy of the arts and the value and contribution of the arts.

The research looks beyond just arts attendance, covering participation in the arts (that is to say, taking an active part in), accessing the arts via the media and people?s attitudes to the arts such as their opinions on the value and role of the arts, and the relationship between attitudes and attendance. The artform categories are broader than those used in previous surveys, and they cover a wide and up-to-date range of activities, including digital arts; carnival, street arts and circus; and cultural festivals.

The sample size (at just over 6,000) is sufficient to allow some analysis of the regional picture, and the forthcoming report includes tables on attendance and participation patterns across the nine government office regions of England. The raw data, which is owned by ACE, will be lodged by National Statistics with the publicly accessible UK Data Archive at Essex University, ensuring that researchers and other interested parties can access the information.

Rigorous process

The Office of National Statistics was commissioned to undertake the research as part of their Omnibus Survey, following a competitive tender process. Respondents were interviewed face-to-face in their homes, with addresses randomly selected from a stratified sample. The arts module was one of several unrelated modules and lasted about 15 minutes. The interviews took place in July, September, October and November 2001.

The survey was piloted in 2000 with around 1,300 adults, the results of which were published by the Arts Council last year as ?Arts in England: a report on the pilot survey?. The results from these interviews, and comments made both by interviewers and those being interviewed, were scrutinised, and the survey questionnaire was revised accordingly. For example, we found that some of those interviewed found the questionnaire irrelevant if they were not arts attenders. So for the full survey in 2001 we added additional questions about other cultural activities ? for example, visiting heritage sites and gardens ? to make the survey more inclusive, and give us a fuller picture of people?s engagement with arts and culture. Resource: the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries joined ACE as a partner in the 2001 survey, so we also asked about people?s visits and attitudes to museums and libraries. The forthcoming publication of the findings from the survey will be jointly issued by the Arts Council of England and Resource and include data on library and museum attenders. A recent article in ?Cultural Trends 40? (Bridgwood and Skelton, 2002) explores the development of the survey in more detail and includes a comparison of the pilot survey data with other national and international sources.

Attendance

In the survey, over three-quarters (79%) of respondents were found to have attended at least one of the arts events listed in the last 12 months. Going to see a film at a cinema or other venue was the most widespread activity. Over half (55%) of respondents had done this in the 12 months prior to interview. The next most widely attended events were plays or dramas (27%), musicals (24%), carnival, street arts or circus (23%) and art, photography or sculpture exhibitions (19%).


Younger people were much more likely than older people to have attended at least one event in the last 12 months; the proportions doing so ranged from 93% of the 16-24 age group to 46% of those aged 75 and over, as shown in Figure 1.

There was a clear association between the socio-economic status of respondents and the likelihood of attendance at arts events. The proportions who reported going to at least one event in the year prior to interview ranged from 89% of respondents from managerial and professional jobs to 67% of those in semi-routine and routine occupations.

62% said they would be interested in attending or visiting more arts and cultural events if they could. The most frequently cited reasons for not doing so were the difficulty of finding time (48%) and cost, mentioned by 38%. Some differences were found between different groups of respondents:

? Women were more likely than men to cite cost as a reason for not attending more events
? Respondents under the age of 55 were more likely than those aged 55 and over to mention lack of available time as a reason
? Younger people (aged 16-24) were more likely than older respondents to cite cost as a reason for not attending
? Lack of transport was a reason for not attending more for both those aged 16-24 and aged 75 and over
? Poor health was a reason for those aged 65 and over, and particularly for those 75 and over

Participation

Almost nine out of ten people had participated in an arts activity in the last year. There was considerable crossover between those attending and participating in the arts; just five per cent of respondents surveyed had neither attended nor participated in the arts in the 12 months prior to interview.

Activities to do with literature were the most commonly reported. Almost six out of ten respondents had read a novel, work of fiction, play or poetry in the last year. After literature, clubbing, textile crafts, and painting, drawing, printmaking or sculpture were most often reported.

A larger proportion of women than of men participated in arts activities. Again, younger adults were more likely to have participated. 93% of those aged 16-24 had taken part in arts activities in the last year, compared to 74% of those aged 75 and over.

In total, nine per cent of respondents had taken a class or lesson in the 12 months prior to interview and four per cent had helped with the running of an arts or cultural event or arts organisation.

Accessing the arts via media

All but a very small proportion of responding adults had accessed the arts through recorded or live media in the four weeks preceding the interview. The highest proportion had listened to it on compact disc, mini disc, tape or record (85% of respondents), followed by radio (81%) and television, video or DVD (68%).

Fourteen per cent had used the internet to view or listen to arts in the 12 months before the survey. Rock or pop music was most likely to be viewed or listened to through all of the audio-visual and online media, followed by classical music.

Attitudes to the arts

Some attitude statements generated a high level of consensus. For example, (97%) agreed that ?all schoolchildren should have the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument or participate in other arts activities?. Other statements which met with broad agreement were:

? I would not feel out of place in an art gallery, museum or theatre (76%)
? Arts and cultural projects should receive public funding (74%)
? The arts play a valuable role in the life of the country (73%)
? Arts from different cultures contribute a lot to this country (72%)
? The arts play a valuable role in my life (62%)

We now have a more detailed and up-to-date picture of arts activity in England to inform our thinking and planning. ?Arts in England? presents some challenges to us all, including the need to ensure that everyone who wishes to can access and take part in cultural activities. But for most people, the arts are an important part of their lives and are something they are actively involved with.


Adrienne Skelton is the Acting Head of Research at the Arts Council of England and the project manager of this research.

The Arts Council of England is particularly interested in how the data will be used by arts professionals and would be pleased to hear about any planned and actual projects that draw on it.
e: {research@artscouncil.org.uk.}

?Arts in England ?(Skelton et al, 2002. ISBN 0-7287-0893-0) will be published by the Arts Council of England in October 2002. The report will be free to download from the website http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/news/publicationsindex.html and a printed version will be available (for £10) from Marston Book Services in October.
t: 01235 465500;
e: direct.orders@marston.co.uk