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The Arts in Canada: Access and Availability

Prepared by Decima Research Inc. for the Department of Canadian Heritage

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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Although older than most articles reviewed in the Arts Research Monitor, this report has not received wide release yet it contains some interesting insights into the arts in Canada. In particular, this report provides information that is not available through Statistics Canada’s arts participation surveys. Specifically, the Decima survey covers media arts presentations and literature readings. In addition, the report examines data by community size for each category of arts activity and provides statistics pertaining to the tastes of the Canadian public. The report also integrates information from 12 focus groups conducted with 92 participants in selected communities in Canada. These focus groups included many rural and youth participants.

Despite these strengths, the survey relies upon a much smaller sample size than Statistics Canada’s main arts participation surveys (2,600 vs. about 11,000). Although the overall results are still accurate within 2.0% 19 times out of 20, the smaller sample size limits the breakdowns (such as provincial data) that can be provided using the survey.

The attendance figures in the report show that 78% of Canadians attended at least one live performance, visual art exhibit or arts event in the 12 months prior to the survey (2001). This figure is substantially higher than the estimate of 53% of Canadians attending at least one performing arts event, festival or public art gallery in 1998 (see “Arts Attendees in Canada”, a presentation by Kelly Hill based on Statistics Canada survey data, available at The estimates of performing arts attendance, festival attendance, and visual arts attendance are also substantially higher in the Decima survey than in previous Statistics Canada surveys. Possible explanations for the discrepancies between the estimates include differences in the survey years, methodology, sample sizes, and items included in the overall estimates.

Statistics available in the Canadian Heritage report that are not available from previous Statistics Canada surveys include an estimate of 34% of respondents attending a media arts presentation and 17% attending a literary or poetry reading. Regarding the types of art that respondents enjoyed most, 45% of respondents described their tastes as leaning toward “traditional” or “classical” works, 29% toward “popular” works and 15% toward “innovative” or “avant-garde” styles of art. Many focus group participants equated the arts with the “fine arts”, including activities such as the ballet, symphony orchestras, theatre, museums and art galleries. Many were “surprised” by a broader definition of the arts, one that included all kinds of live performances, arts exhibits and craft shows.

The report provides statistics showing that Canadians strongly believe in the contribution of the arts and arts facilities to the quality of life of their communities. Rural focus group participants “placed a particular emphasis on the annual fair or festival held in their town”, which might provide the only local exposure to many kinds of arts activities. The main benefits of the arts expressed by rural and urban focus group participants include opportunities to learn, to be entertained, to have fun and to share an interest or activity with friends.

In order to enhance the appeal of the arts and culture, over two-thirds of respondents indicated that better information about what cultural activities are available would be helpful. Respondents’ recommendations concerning how to make arts attendance easier included having more arts facilities, more conveniently-located facilities, and more physically-accessible facilities. Changes enabling lower-cost performances were also supported. In addition to cost, focus group participants pointed out the availability of spare time, the distance to facilities, and awareness of arts activities as barriers to attendance.

Although most survey respondents expressed pride in Canadian artists, many – 86% – agreed that “artists need more opportunities to bring their work to the public”. A large majority of respondents also agreed that “governments should provide support for the arts and culture”. The report notes that, in the focus group sessions, “some participants compared financial support to the arts against other federal responsibilities such as health care and emphasized that the importance of the arts paled in comparison”. Local governments were seen as the best vehicle for promoting the arts, because they were seen to best understand the needs of the community.

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