New research from the Australia Council shows that increasing numbers of Australians recognise the positive impact of the arts across a range of areas including child development and education, health and wellbeing, and the future economy. A growing number also support public funding for the arts.

Nearly every Australian – 98 percent – reported that they engaged with arts and culture during 2019, be it listening to music, reading a book, going to a gallery or museum, or visiting live theatre or dance. Acknowledgement of the positive impact of the arts has risen to 84 percent from 75 percent in 2016, while 63 percent of those surveyed supported public funding for the arts, up from 51 percent in 2016.

Colossus by Stephanie Lake Company, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photograph © Mark Gambino

The data comes from Creating Our Future, the fourth report in the National Arts Participation Survey – a research series conducted by the Australia Council – and follows previous surveys in 2009, 2013 and 2016.

The latest research was conducted online in November and December 2019, before the devastating bushfires and the coronavirus crisis, which has taken a dreadful toll on the arts industry. Almost 9,000 people were surveyed.

The survey provides important information to draw on, highlighting the various roles the arts can play as the nation works towards a post-COVID recovery.

Executive Director Advocacy and Development, Dr Wendy Were said the report underscores the enormous social, cultural and economic value of the arts to all Australians.

“Australians have told us, in increasing numbers, just how much the arts enrich, support and expand their lives. With our current focus on mental health, social connection and consumer confidence, the sustaining nature of our connections with and through creativity – the very participation this study measures – is more important than ever. This research shows just what is at stake, and highlights the crucial role of arts and creativity as we seek to bring life back into our cities, regions, and economy,” said Were.

The research showed that 92 percent of Australians listened to recorded music in 2019, while 82 percent engaged with the arts online, most of them by streaming music.

Live attendance was thriving in 2019, prior to the pandemic, with more than two in three Australians attending the arts in person, up nearly 10 percent since 2016. Attendance of live music increased from 43 percent in 2016 to 48 percent in 2019, live theatre attendance grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, gallery visits increased from 33 percent to 37 percent, while dance attendance grew from 24 percent to 29 percent. Meanwhile, digital engagement with the arts was growing even before COVID-19.

When it comes to assessing the positive impact of the arts, 63 percent said that arts and culture are important to child development (up from 50 percent in 2016); 56 percent said the arts contribute to our sense of wellbeing and happiness (up from 45 percent), 56 percent believe the arts help deal with stress, anxiety and depression (up from 45 percent); 60 percent said the arts help us understand other people and cultures (up from 52 percent); and one in two believe the arts build creative skills that will be necessary for the future workforce.

Seventy-five percent of Australians now feel that First Nations arts are an important part of Australia’s culture, but only half feel that First Nations arts are well represented.

Young people, aged 15 – 24, are highly engaged. They are more likely than other age groups to recognise the value of the arts, and are more willing to give time and money to the arts.

Targeted methods were used in 2019 when conducting the survey to ensure better representation of young Australians, regional and remote First Nations communities, communities for whom language might be an obstacle to participating, and Australians with an intellectual disability.

The report provides vital new evidence about the essential role arts and creativity play in Australian communities, and how deeply embedded they are in the fabric of our daily lives. It shows what stands to be lost if the arts are not properly supported, and if companies fold as a result. Despite some emergency support from State governments, a large number of artists were ineligible for the JobKeeper supplement, and the Federal Government’s $250m rescue fund (much of which consists of loans) is not likely to be delivered until October. Arts companies across the country are struggling. Just last week, Opera Australia announced that it was having to sell one of its buildings and restructure the organisation, with some redundancies inevitable. But if properly funded, the arts have a huge amount to contribute as Creating Our Future attests.

“As our families, communities and nation come to terms with the uncertainty, isolation and social and economic disruption of the world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the power of the arts and creativity to connect and uplift us, to reduce expenditure across health and social services and to stimulate tourism and local economies, has never been more important,” said Were.

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