Levels of arts engagement in England have been static for the past decade, and have fallen significantly among the Asian population, according to a new Government report.

Children at art gallery exhibit

Arts engagement overall remains lower among the Asian ethnic group than among White and Black ethnic groups, and there has been a significant decline in engagement among Asian people since 2005/6, according to a new DCMS report on diversity in the cultural sector.

The report is based on the longitudinal Taking Part household survey, which measures engagement with the cultural sector. It presents trends for adult engagement in cultural activity over the period 2005/06 to 2015/16, focusing on differences by ethnicity, socio-economic group, disability status and region.

When the DCMS started collecting this data, two-thirds (66.7%) of people who identify as Asian said they had engaged with cultural activities once or more in the previous year, but by 2015/16 this figure had fallen to 59.3%. In contrast, engagement with the arts has remained “fairly stable” but shown no growth among White, Black or “other” ethnic groups – a category that includes those from mixed/multiple ethnic backgrounds.

Over the same period, the converse is true of museum and gallery visits. Engagement among all ethnic groups has grown significantly since 2005/06. But while levels of engagement with museums and galleries was lower among Asian people than other ethnic groups in 2005/06, by 2015/16 there was no difference between them.

Other demographics

Data shows the difference in arts engagement between those in the upper and lower socio-economic groups remains, but has narrowed slightly, from 20 percentage points in 2005/06 to 16.5 in 2015/16.

However, this trend is explained by significantly lower engagement among the upper socio-economic group, rather than increasing engagement by those in lower socio-economic groups.

The gap between socio-economic levels is greater in absolute terms (24.1 percentage points) for museums and galleries than for the arts, but this has neither grown nor shrunk over the 10-year period.

The picture is brighter with respect to disability. While engagement with the arts has remained constant among adults with no disability, it has increased significantly among adults with a long-standing illness or disability, leading to the engagement gap falling from 9.2 to 4.6 percentage points.

Other findings include:

  • Engagement with heritage and with museums & galleries has increased significantly for disabled and non-disabled adults.
  • Public library use has fallen. It was significantly lower, and fell more, in the White ethnic group than the Black and Asian ethnic groups.
  • The North West is the only region that has seen significantly higher engagement in the arts in 2015/16 (77.8%) compared with 2005/06 (71.5%).
Liz Hill