The data will be used by Arts Council England to inform a £24m investment in new areas through its Creative People and Places programme.

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Government data has revealed local level information on arts attendance and participation across England’s 326 local authority areas for the first time since 2009/10.

The data also reveals artistic engagement by age, socio-economic status, ethnicity and gender.

It will be used by Arts Council England (ACE) to guide investment via is Creative People and Places programme, which supports arts activity in areas with historically low levels of cultural engagement.

ACE Chair Sir Nicholas Serota today announced £37m will be invested in a new round of the scheme between 2018-2022. Of this, £24m will be invested in projects in new areas for the first time since 2014.

Local-level detail

The government-backed ‘Active Lives’ research, which built on a survey launched in 2005/06, found 70% of adults in England had attended an arts event, visited a museum or gallery, or spent time doing an arts activity during the past year.

Map produced by ArtsProfessional

Echoing previous research, it found people in the South East and London are the most engaged with the arts. But the data also reveals engagement is patchier in London than in any other region. It is home to the area with the highest rate of engagement – the City of London, where 92% engaged – and two of the areas with the lowest rate: Barking and Dagenham (55%) and Newham (58%).

Across England, the lowest rate of engagement was in Blackburn with Darwen, where 44% had attended an arts event, museum or gallery or participated in an arts activity in the past year. This is despite the North West, with average engagement of 67%, being statistically more engaged than four other regions.

The North East had the second lowest rate of arts engagement (66%), but it was the area with the most consistent level of engagement across its 12 local authority areas.

Areas with the lowest rate of arts engagement

Region Local authority Arts engagement*
North West Blackburn with Darwen 44.1%
West Midlands Sandwell 51.5%
South East Slough 54%
London Barking and Dagenham 55.2%
North West Pendle 55.7%
West Midlands East Staffordshire 56.6%
North West Wigan 57.3%
West Midlands Walsall 57.6%
London Newham 58.1%
East Midlands Ashfield 58.2%
*The percentage that has attended an arts event, museum or gallery or participated in an arts activity in the past 12 months

Areas with the highest rate of arts engagement

Region Local authority Arts engagement
London City of London 91.7%
London Richmond upon Thames 88.1%
East Cambridge 86.7%
London Kensington and Chelsea 86.6%
London Hammersmith and Fulham 85.1%
South East Brighton and Hove 84.3%
South East Chiltern 84%
South East Oxford 83.9%
London Islington 83.7%
London Wandsworth 83.1%


Demographic differences

The data reinforces other research, finding women are more engaged with the arts than men. 74% of women surveyed had either attended an arts event, museum or gallery, or spent time doing an arts activity in the past year, compared with 66% of men.      

The ethnicity breakdown reveals 72% of people who identify as White British engaged with the arts. This rose slightly among people who identify as ‘White – other’ (75%) and was highest among those who identify as ‘mixed race’ (77%).

The lowest levels of engagement were recorded among people who identify as Asian (53%), Black (58%) and ‘other ethnic group’ (61%).

In addition, the data reveals engagement is at its highest among 16 to 24 years olds (73%), followed by those aged 65 to 74 (72%). By the time people reach 85 or older, engagement falls to just over 40%.


Arts engagement

South East 74.1%
London 72.8%
South West 72.7%
East 70.3%
North West 67.5%
East Midlands 67.5%
Yorkshire and Humber 66.9%
North East 66.2%
West Midlands 64.8%

Research strategy

Undertaken as ACE works towards a new ten-year strategy, the research will be used to inform the funder’s future working, including Creative People and Places.

The programme was launched in 2012 and has so far invested over £50m in 21 projects focused in areas of low arts engagement. These projects have reached most of the ten areas highlighted by the new data as having the lowest levels of arts engagement.

ACE will launch a funding round for new Creative People and Places projects in early 2019.

The Active Lives survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI and led by Sport England in partnership with ACE, Public Health England and the Department for Transport. It collected data on arts engagement between November 2015 and May 2017 from around 500 adults in each of England’s 326 local authority areas.