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The coming crisis of cultural engagement? Measurement, methods, and the nuances of niche activities

March 18, 202018 March 2020

Arts participation

Cultural Trends


Laurie Hanquinet, Dave O’Brien, and Mark Taylor

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This article from the United Kingdom (U.K.) analyzes and compares “traditional” survey data on arts attendance with detailed ticketing data, with a focus on the equity or inequity of attendance at different artforms.

The data from both the survey and ticketing datasets show that there are substantial differences in attendance by social strata in the U.K. for many artforms, including film, classical music, jazz, ballet, opera, drama, musical theatre, and public art. The article notes that “literary events, particularly literary talks, are perhaps the event that is marked by the most striking social stratification”.

A few arts activities show relative equality in attendance by social strata: contemporary dance; “African people’s dance”; and circus.

For art exhibitions, the two data types showed different results: the survey data appear to show greater inequities in attendance than the ticketing data.

Given that some artforms appear to be more successful than others in reaching audiences across social strata, the authors suggest that “there may be valuable lessons [for arts organizations] on engagement and participation strategies across different artforms”, rather than looking for strategies within the same artform.

In terms of overall compatibility between different data sources, the researchers find that ticket sales data closely match broader survey data “in each English local authority”.

The article concludes that “the power of new datasets is in offering specificity about artforms, rather than overturning what we know about culture and inequality”. While cultural research methods and datasets can have “limitations and problematic assumptions”, the authors conclude that “the ‘coming crisis’ for cultural statistics seems, from this analysis, not to have materialised”.

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