Northern Europeans have the highest levels of cultural engagement but overall levels of participation and engagement have fallen since 2007.

The number of Europeans describing their cultural engagement as high or very high has decreased to 18% from 21% in 2007, and 34% of the EU population say they never or hardly ever participate in cultural activities, a 4% rise since 2007. The highest levels of active participation are in Denmark, where 74% of respondents have participated in at least one cultural activity in the past year, Sweden (68%), Finland (63%) and the Netherlands (58%). In terms of frequency of participation in all types of cultural activities, from reading to visiting a museum, Northern countries score highest. The findings come from the latest Cultural Access and Participation Eurobarometer survey which provides an up to date picture of how EU citizens think and behave in relation to culture. The survey explores levels of engagement, active involvement in cultural activities and the use of the internet for cultural purposes. Nearly 27k people across the EU were interviewed for the survey with around 1,300 people responding from the UK.

The decline in participation has affected all cultural activities except cinema, where the number of people going to the movies has increased by one percent point to 52%. The main reasons for not engaging in culture are lack of money and lack of time, with 44% giving this as a reason for not reading a book. Lack of interest is another factor, and half of people say this is why they have not seen a ballet, dance performance or opera. Respondents were most likely to have participated in activities that are relatively inexpensive and can be done at home, including watching a cultural programme on the television or listening to the radio. 72% did this at least once in the past 12 months, but this is a 6% decrease since 2007. Activities in which people have participated least include visiting a public library (31%), going to the theatre (28%) and seeing a ballet or opera (18%). The general trend towards declining passive participation in cultural activities also applies to active participation – being a creator or performer. Although there are marked differences between Member States, on average only 38% of Europeans actively took part in a cultural activity, such as singing, dancing or photography in the past year. Socio-demographic factors continue to influence cultural participation, with the most educated or those with a high social status being most likely to participate.

The survey showed over half of Europeans use the internet for cultural purposes, with nearly a third doing so at least once a week. The most popular uses are reading newspaper articles, searching for cultural information and listening to the radio or music via the internet. In the 2007 survey it was suggested that the disparity in cultural participation might be narrowed in time by increased internet access which could transform the cultural sphere. Encouragingly, the youngest Europeans, aged 15-24, show higher levels of participation in many cultural activities and it seems this is the age at which the greatest diversity of activities is experienced. The most likely uses of the internet for cultural activities in this age group are to read newspaper articles (53%), search for cultural information (44%), listen to the radio or music (42%), download music (31%), watch streamed or downloaded TV and movies (27%), or to buy books, CDs and tickets (27%).

This year’s Eurobarometer survey was published to coincide with the opening of the European Culture Forum in Brussels, on the eve of the adoption of Creative Europe, the new EU programme to support the cultural and creative sectors. Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth said: “Culture is a source of personal fulfilment, creativity and joy. I am concerned that fewer EU citizens are involved in cultural activities, as performers, producers or consumers. This survey shows that governments need to re-think how they support culture to stimulate public participation and culture’s potential as an engine for jobs and growth. The cultural and creative sectors also need to adapt to reach new audiences and explore new funding models. The Commission will continue to support cultural access and participation through our new Creative Europe programme and other EU funding sources.”

Elizabeth Hunt