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Barriers to arts engagement under spotlight in new government report

Common reasons for not engaging with cultural activities such as going to the theatre were a lack of interest and not having enough time. Photo: Pawel Libera
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Lack of interest, a person’s disability and restrictions on their time have been highlighted as the main reasons why people in England do not engage with the arts, research suggests.

It is the first time the ongoing Taking Part survey – put together the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – has included a question on barriers to entry, to better understand why people might not engage with culture.

Of all those who answered the survey, 31% had not attended an arts event in the previous 12 months and 47% of adults in England had not participated in at least one cultural activity during the same period.

Among those who had not engaged, 23% said a disability or health problem had prevented them from attending an arts event, four times the figure for libraries.

The proportion of people who cited a health problem or disability was higher for attending arts events than for any other sector measured, including participating in the arts, visiting heritage sites or museums and using libraries.

However, the report did find that levels of arts engagement among those with a disability were the highest ever recorded in 2017/18. During that period, 76% of people with a disability engaged with the arts, which is above the longer term average of 71%. It is still below the 80% of people without a disability.

Overall, the most common reasons for not engaging with cultural activities were a lack of interest and not having enough time.

When looking at arts attendance alone, 37% said they did not engage because they were not interested, while 33% said they did not have the time to go.

Other barriers included price, not knowing what was available, places being difficult to get to and not having anyone to go with.

The Taking Part survey has been measuring cultural participation and attendance since 2005.

In a set of statistics published earlier this year, arts engagement was found to be growing fastest among older people, who ere the highest attenders of opera and ballet. People aged 16 to 24 were the least likely to attend a play or drama, the survey said.

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