Nearly twice as many Australians in 2016 think “The Arts is not really for them” compared to 2013

The results from the Australia Council for the Arts National Arts Participation Survey are in with lots of great results to talk about how wonderful and important we are (and we are), but there are some hidden stats that I think we need to talk about.

Let’s stick with “Attitudes to the arts”. You can find the interactive graph HERE.

You know there is going to be something interesting about this data because a different graph format has been used to the other graphs. This one doesn’t show you the comparison between 2016 and 2013 straight away – you have to swap between the years 2016, 2013 and 2009.

When you do this you will see why: the figures are down by substantial margins. Here’s some of the key drops Australia wide:

  • Indigenous arts are an important part of Australia’s culture. Down from 92% to 80%;
  • Artists make an important contribution to Australian society. Down from 90% to 78%;
  • The arts should be an important part of the education of every Australian. Down from 89% to 75%;
  • The arts tend to attract people who are somewhat elitist or pretentious. Up from 30% to 43%;
  • The arts are not really for people ‘like me’. Up from 13% to 22%.

Breaking this down to regional responses for variations, the figures are similar.

  • Indigenous arts are an important part of Australia’s culture. Down from 90% to 78%;
  • Artists make an important contribution to Australian society. Down from 90% to 76%;
  • The arts should be an important part of the education of every Australian. Down from 90% to 72%;
  • The arts tend to attract people who are somewhat elitist or pretentious. Up from 32% to 42%;
  • The arts are not really for people ‘like me’. Up a smaller margin from 15% to 19%.

These are pretty big changes in the wrong direction considering the sample size for 2016 was significantly larger than 2013 and 2009 and should have a smaller margin of error.

The full report acknowledges these figures (pages 33-36). However, it also uses a couple of paragraphs at the end of page 33 to show that “47% of Australians feel society is broken” and “a third of Australians feel like a stranger in their own country” which reads to me as a bit of a caveat for the data that doesn’t get applied to all the statistics elsewhere that went up. That’s kind of like saying the figures went up because we are doing a great job and the other figures went down because people are worried about “stuff” we can’t fix so let’s just ignore it and hope noone notices.

Stats can’t always go the direction you want so it is important to have a proper discussion when they don’t go where we think they should be.Why are Australian’s attitudes to the arts going in a different direction to what we think of the impact of the arts?

  • Is it the changing use of the word “the arts” compared to “culture”?
  • Is it that “the arts” are increasingly seen as something important to have but not to necessarily engage?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the big thing about a large survey like this conducted by the market consultancy 10 THOUSAND FEET for the Australia Council for the Arts is that it gives us the data to shout from the rooftops but also should give us the data to ask the hard questions to make changes to arts policy at a local and national level.

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* Image of the “Connecting Australians” report by the Australian Council for the Arts. Cover image: Opera in the Park. Credit: James Rogers for West Australian Opera

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