We’re more engaged in the arts than we realise

The Australia Council for the Arts has released the results of the National Arts Participation Survey, their third report in a series that measures Australians’ engagement with the arts.

We’re more engaged in the arts than we realise


The 2016 survey provides a national snapshot of our attitudes towards and participation with arts events, exhibitions and festivals, as well as our propensity to read, listen to music, share and connect with the arts online, and create art ourselves. ‘The arts’ umbrella is wide ranging and includes theatre, dance, visual arts and craft, music, literature, First Nations and cross-art form work.

Chief Executive of the Council, Mr Tony Grybowski, says that ‘while 98 per cent of Australians engage in the arts, they do so more frequently and with much greater breadth than they realise.’

The report also found that more Australians now believe that the arts have a ‘big’ or ‘very big’ impact on their sense of wellbeing and happiness (60%, up from 52% in 2013), their ability to express themselves (69%, up from 61% in 2013) and their ability to think creatively and develop new ideas (67%, up from 59% in 2013).

The findings confirm the value Australians place on the impact of the arts, and the ways in which they make our communities stronger and more cohesive. ‘The report also shows how crucial the arts are at this pivotal moment in time — for understanding our differences, reflecting our cultural diversity and connecting with each other through our common humanity’, says Mr Grybowski.

They also throw light on some interesting trends — engagement with First Nations arts has doubled since 2009; the arts are increasingly important in the lives of younger Australians; and creating, accessing and sharing the arts online is creating popular new ways to engage with the arts rather than replacing live attendance, which remains strong.

More than 14 million Australians aged 15 years and over attended arts events or festivals in person in 2016 (72%), which is on par with 2013 and 2009. Arts practice in Australia is increasingly interdisciplinary, and Australians who attend one type of arts practice are very likely to attend other types.

Fifty-three per cent of Australians attended theatre or dance in 2016, which was up from 42 per cent in 2013. Attendance increased across most theatre and dance genres, including contemporary dance, social dance (e.g. ballroom or street dance), circus and physical theatre, traditional, contemporary and experimental theatre. The relevance and diversity of the theatre and dance offerings are making an impact and attracting new audiences.

More than half of Australians attended live music in 2016 (54%), including opera, classical music, musical theatre, art music and contemporary popular music. This figure, which shows a drop since 2013, reflects a decline in the proportion of Australians attending contemporary music events across Australia. From this, we infer that audiences at the live classical music performances remain steady. It may be possible that the lower attendance figures shown in some areas of the arts reflect the home-focused behaviour triggered in some individuals by the uncertainty that is prevalent in society today.

It is encouraging to note that there is a healthy demand for the arts further afield as around seven in ten people attend the arts in regional Australia (69%) compared to metropolitan Australia (73%).

The vast majority of Australians maintained positive attitudes about the arts in 2016. However, there has been a shift among some towards ambivalence. More Australians ‘neither agree or disagree’ with some positive attitude statements. For example, that the arts should receive public funding (25% ‘neither agree or disagree’, up from 13% in 2013), or that it is exciting to see new kinds of art (25% ‘neither agree or disagree’, up from 10%).

The report suggests this finding is likely to reflect the heightened anxiety, disengagement and divisions within society at this time. For example, a 2017 global study by Ipsos found that almost half of Australians feel society is broken (47%) and a third of Australians feel like a stranger in their own country (36%).1

Regardless of their level of interest in the arts, people across the focus groups share the same major concerns, including the cost of living. The barriers of time and money are high for those who are supportive of the arts but are currently disengaged.

For those who value the arts, cost of living worries do not dampen their interest in seeing and creating art. For these people, arts are an essential part of life, critical to emotional, personal and social wellbeing.

Key research findings

·Ninety-eight per cent of Australians engage with the arts; since the 2013 survey there is substantially increased recognition of their positive impact on our wellbeing and ability to develop new ideas. More Australians now believe the arts reflect Australia’s cultural diversity, and that they shape and express Australian identity.

  • Three in four Australians believe the arts are an important way to get a different perspective on a topic or issue.
  • Seven million Australians experienced First Nations arts last year — double the number since the first survey in 2009; four in five believe they are an important part of Australia’s culture.
  • Three quarters of us think the arts are an important part of the education of every Australian and are proud when Australian artists do well overseas.
  • Younger Australians (15–24 years) create and experience the arts at the highest rates, especially online; they are big festival and First Nations arts attenders; and over half engage with the arts as part of their cultural background.
  • Online and live arts experiences both remain important to Australians, creating greater access and new experiences rather than one replacing the other.
  • Eight in ten people engage with the arts online, an increase from seven in ten in 2013, and five in ten in 2009, with music streaming the largest contributor to this growth. Online activity is creating new opportunities to collaborate and share, and is connecting artists and audiences directly.
  • Nine million Australians attended an arts festival in 2016. Arts festivals are diverse and accessible, bringing local communities together in immersive experiences and encouraging regional and international tourism.
  • This survey saw a substantial increase in the number of Australians attending theatre or dance from 2013 (42% to 53%), as well as increases for visual arts and craft, and new data, which shows one in five Australians attend literary events, such as book clubs, talks and festivals.
  • The downward trend in the proportion of Australians who donate money generally is not reflected in arts giving. One in four Australians give time or money to the arts reflecting the value of the arts in our lives.

For more information, visit the Australia Council website.