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The Australia Council for the Arts has released the findings of the third National Arts Participation Survey, which show that Australians place an increasing value on the arts and that attendance has grown in recent years.
“The research demonstrates that the arts have a unique capacity to connect Australians from diverse backgrounds, and that two in three of us believe the arts help us to understand other people and cultures, and allow us to connect to others. We are highly connected digitally and yet we live in a global era of growing social, cultural and political division that is being evidenced through major social threats. These findings confirm that Australians firmly believe the arts contribute to addressing these issues through breaking down barriers, promoting inclusion and creating understanding”, said Chief Executive Officer of the Australia Council for the Arts, Tony Grybowski.
According to the survey, 98 percent of Australians feel that the arts have a place in their lives, with 60 percent believing that the arts have a big impact on their sense of wellbeing, as well as on their ability to express themselves (68 percent), and their ability to think creatively and develop new ideas (67 percent).
Furthermore, three in four Australians agree that the arts should play an important part in the education of every Australian; that the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life; and that the arts are an important way to experience different perspectives on a topic or issue.
In terms of attendance, the survey saw a substantial increase from 2013 in the number of Australians seeing theatre or dance (53 percent up from 42 percent), as well as an increase for visual arts and craft (46 percent up from 43 percent). Additionally, more than half of Australians attended live music in 2016, including opera, classical music, musical theatre, art music and contemporary popular music.
The report also shows that Australians are attending Indigenous events in increasing numbers, with attendance doubling since 2009 and reaching sven million Australians last year. Furthermore, four in five people believe that Indigenous arts play an important role in Australia’s culture, with those under 35 years of age more likely to attend such events than those 45 and over (45 percent compared to 29 percent).
Alongside these promising statistics, the survey demonstrates that some Australians hold a more ambivalent attitude towards the role of the arts and its funding. For example, 25 percent of those surveyed neither agreed nor disagreed that the arts should receive public funding, up from 13 percent in 2013. Additionally, more Australians agree that the arts are too expensive (43 percent, up from 36 percent); that the arts tend to attract those who are somewhat elitist or pretentious (43 percent, up from 30 percent); and that the arts are not really for people ‘like me’ (22 percent, up from 13 percent).
However, the report suggests that these perceptions are driven in part by narrow definitions about what the arts really constitutes – while respondents were presented with an inclusive list of arts activities, some members still maintained an ingrained, circumscribed definition of the arts. Those who described themselves as less engaged with the arts usually conceived of the arts as ‘opera and ballet’ rather than also free and accessible festivals, with many adamant that such cultural events happened in big cities rather than in suburban or regional areas. However, public and free events such as Sydney’s Vivid Festival were held up as great examples of art that is popular yet still ‘arty’.
Interestingly, those who identified as disengaged with the arts also greatly underestimated their involvement. When they were given a list that included activities such as reading, craft, and listening to music, respondents were surprised and often pleased to realise they were more artistically involved than they had previously imagined.