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Ontario Arts Engagement Study

Results from a 2011 Province-wide Study of the Arts Engagement Patterns of Ontario Adults

October 20, 201120 October 2011

Audience engagement / Heritage organizations

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This report, prepared for the Ontario Arts Council by WolfBrown, is based on a survey of 1,594 Ontario adults covering their personal practice, attendance and media-based consumption of 45 different arts activities, including music, dance, theatre, drama, reading, writing, visual arts, crafts, and specific online activities. In order to achieve the sample size of 1,594, the telephone survey firm made 12,672 calls, which indicates that the cooperation rate was 13%. The overall sample is considered accurate within a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

For each of the 45 arts activities, respondents were asked about the frequency of their participation as well as whether they considered the activity to be very important to them. The broad range of arts activities included in the survey leads to the conclusion that “virtually all Ontarians take part in arts activities of some sort. For example, 99% of Ontarians engage at least once a year in any of the ten music activities included in the survey. The same is true for visual arts, crafts and film activities (98% prevalence) and also of reading and writing activities (99% prevalence). Over two-thirds of Ontarians engage at least once a year in any of the seven dance activities included in the survey, and 64% of Ontarians engage at least once a year in any of the five theatre activities included in the survey.”

In the case of art gallery attendance, the survey found that 51% of Ontarians visited an art gallery at least once a year. Among art gallery visitors, 80% indicated that visiting a gallery was very important to them. “Similarly, 55% of Ontarians reported attending a play or musical with professional actors [at least once a year]. Of those who did, 74% described this activity as being ‘very important’ to them.” Overall, the researchers found that “many Ontarians attach a high degree of importance to activities that they do infrequently”. The importance of some personal practice activities was particularly high. One implication of these findings is that frequency of attendance is not the only indicator of arts engagement.

The researchers created an “arts engagement index”, which combined the responses regarding frequency and importance for four arts attendance elements and four personal arts practice components. Separate indexes were also calculated for each discipline. There were only small differences in the overall arts engagement index between Francophone and Anglophone Ontarians or between respondents with or without children. The index is relatively high for:

  • Younger Ontarians (18 to 34 years of age), who tend to do more participatory activities.
  • Highly-educated residents, who tend to do more attendance-based activities.
  • Ontarians with higher household incomes, who tend to do more attendance-based activities.
  • Women, who tend to engage more in “arts learning, interpretive activities and community-based arts events”.
  • Visible minorities, who tend to do more participatory activities such as arts learning and skills acquisition.
  • Aboriginal Ontarians, who tend to do more participatory activities.
  • Urban area residents (especially Toronto residents), who tend to attend more live performances, visit more museums and engage in more curatorial arts activities (such as selecting, organizing and collecting the art and artistic experiences in their lives).

If the personal arts practice components are examined separately from attendance-based activities, there is little or no difference in individual participation rates by education and income, as well as for rural and urban residents. By re-defining “arts participation”, these findings provide new insights into who engages in the arts, and how they tend to do so.

The researchers found that arts participation via electronic media, such as listening to streaming radio online and downloading music, is most common among younger Ontarians. The report indicates that those who participate via electronic media and those who do artistic activities themselves are much more likely to attend arts activities.

The report notes that Ontarians who indicate that they have a strong interest in their own cultural heritage and those with a strong interest in others’ arts and culture heritage are more frequent participants.

Near the end of the survey, respondents were asked whether they would like to do any of the 45 activities more often than they do now. Overall, 95% of Ontario adults indicated that they would like to do at least one of the 45 activities more often. The report notes that this indicator of “latent demand” is strongest for painting or drawing, attending professional plays or musicals, reading books for enjoyment, attending professional concerts, and playing a musical instrument.

The report draws attention to the importance of the settings in which the arts are experienced, especially informal settings and places of worship. Respondents’ homes were found to be the most common setting for arts activities.

The report challenges “the arts community and its funders to consider the totality of engagement when looking to increase participation” and concludes that “increasing arts engagement in Ontario will require making new connections between different parts of the ecosystem and tapping into deep veins of cultural value”.

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