A new national survey commissioned by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) has found that the Australian public values symphony orchestras as an important part of our culture, with most respondents saying that they would support maintaining or increasing government funding.

However, the survey also found that the major performing arts categories, including classical music, opera, theatre and ballet, are failing to attract most of the public to their events.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Photo courtesy of ASO

The online survey, conducted in July, reached 800 people. The results were released last weekend at a conference organised by the Sydney Orchestra Musicians Association.

In a healthy endorsement of Australia’s orchestras, 83 percent of those surveyed said that they believed that government funding should either stay at its current level of $2.50 per person per annum, or be significantly increased. Only 11 percent would defund Australia’s state orchestras. Forty-eight percent identified classical music as an important part of Australian culture, and 50 percent felt it was important that school children learn classical music. In terms of the financial aspect, 70 percent viewed orchestras as an important part of the economy, acknowledging the provision of jobs and opportunities for musicians.

While 48 percent of respondents reported listening regularly to classical music, many of them did not actually attend live classical concerts on any regular basis, with 80 percent of the people surveyed saying they had not attended a classical concert, opera, ballet or play in the past 12 months. Cost was a significant inhibiting factor, though poor public transport was another obstacle.

The Director of MEAA’s Musicians sector Paul Davies said the research supported the view that orchestras, along with opera and ballet companies, were public and cultural assets.

“These companies are expensive to run, but the public understands and accepts the need to improve government funding,” he said.

Davies said the research identified the challenges to increasing audiences for the arts, including expensive ticket prices, but he cited other issues. “We know that planning and regulatory problems and poor public transport are major obstacles to people going out to attend a concert or live entertainment,” he said.

“Governments generally must do more to fix this. People want to go out, they want to attend, but too often infrastructure constraints are making it harder for people to make that choice,” he said. “Government must do more to encourage existing venues and the development of new performance spaces and precincts, located where people live and work.”