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The Changing Landscape of Arts Participation

A Synthesis of Literature and Expert Interviews

February 24, 201624 February 2016

Arts attendance and participation

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This literature review, originally created as part of a California arts participation study, explores how people participate in the arts, who participates, where participation happens, as well as motivations and barriers to participation.

The report promotes a broad understanding of cultural participation, one that includes folk and traditional arts as well as digital technologies alongside “benchmark” activities such as visual art exhibitions and live performances. Key to understanding broad arts participation is the recognition that “networks and social circles are influential in terms of self-identification, activities undertaken, and taste development”.

A broad understanding of cultural participation also recognizes that many arts activities take place in settings that are not predominantly “arts” venues, including places of worship, schools, outdoor venues, individual homes, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

The authors outline ten types of motivations for arts participation:

  • “To learn, discover and broaden one’s horizons
  • To appreciate aesthetics / beauty
  • To be emotionally moved
  • To express one’s self
  • To develop or affirm a sense of belonging
  • To meet people different from me
  • To socialize
  • To learn or continue cultural traditions
  • To support one’s local community (geographically defined)
  • To convey or support a message or movement”

In terms of barriers to arts participation, the report cites a study of barriers to museum attendance that suggested six types of barriers:

  • “Historically-grounded cultural barriers to participation in many established cultural institutions because of overt discrimination and exclusionary practices
  • The lack of specialized knowledge and a cultivated aesthetic taste (“cultural capital”) required for understanding and appreciating what are perceived to be elite art forms
  • No strong tradition of participation in the cultural form fostered in childhood or through family experience and tradition
  • Lack of a strong social network that encourages participation in this art form
  • Changing patterns of work and leisure, and changing structure and dynamics of family life that make limit time and opportunity for engagement
  • Structural impediments: geography, transportation, financial barrier to entry”

The report concludes by recommending “a wider scope of research in support of a deeper understanding of the activities, informal and formal, that contribute to vibrant cultural lives and communities”.

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