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Arts must do more to appeal to wider public or face “cultural apartheid” – report

The report highlights concerns over the relevance and accessibility of subsidised arts. Photo: aerogondo2/Shutterstock
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A landmark new report has warned that more needs to be done to fix the “mismatch” between publicly funded arts and the taste of the general public, in order to avoid “cultural apartheid”.

Statistics in the publication reveal the 8% of people who are the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse made up at least 28% of live theatre attendees in the last three years.

Following a 12-month inquiry into the state of arts and culture in Britain, the Warwick University report highlights concerns over the relevance and accessibility of subsidised arts.

After asserting that passion for the arts is “widespread”, it concludes: “Low engagement is more the effect of a mismatch between the public’s taste and the publicly funded cultural offer.”

“We are particularly concerned that publicly funded arts… are predominantly accessed by an unnecessarily narrow social, economic, ethnic and educated demographic that is not fully representative of the UK’s population”.

The report features recommendations from a collective of leading arts figures including Young Vic artistic director David Lan, as well as Arts Council England chair Peter Bazalgette and incoming ACE chief executive Darren Henley.

Lan told The Stage that more must be done to engage wider theatre audiences to avoid “cultural apartheid” between elite arts audiences and the broader public.

“It’s hard to believe that suddenly people aren’t interested in great works of the imagination that have engaged vast quantities of people over the past 400 years”, he said. “I would like to know why that should be. I just think we’re not good enough at engaging people.”

He also said that ACE should be forward thinking with its investment, adding: “Arts organisations, like other organisations, don’t have to live forever. It’s not a bad thing if they stop. If the energy’s gone out of them, or if there’s more energy in something else, then that energy should be supported.”

Former Royal Shakespeare Company chief executive Vikki Heywood, who chaired the report, said it was “a demanding scorecard against which to judge the next government.”

She said: “We’re not saying that every piece of art has to be massively popular, but what we are saying is that more art needs to be of interest to a wider group of people – not in numbers, but in demographics.”

An ACE spokeswoman denied that low engagement was just a challenge for subsidised arts, and said it extended to the commercial sector.

She added: “Broadening audiences, to include as many people as possible, is one of our absolute priorities. Everyone in England should feel art and culture can be part of their lives regardless of their income or their background.”

The report emphasized a number of the creative sector’s assets – including the fact that its workforce is growing four times faster than the UK workforce as a whole. In addition, it highlighted recent government figures showing the sector contributed £76.9 billion to the economy in 2013.

Read the full report online here.

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