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Courting older audiences will be crucial over next decade, theatres told

Estimates dictate that by 2030, 22% of the population will be over 65, as opposed to 18% today. The Nestra report says theatres will need to cater to this audience. Photo: Shutterstock Estimates dictate that by 2030, 22% of the population will be over 65, as opposed to 18% today. The Nesta report says theatres will need to cater to this audience. Photo: Shutterstock
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Arts organisations will need to focus more on older audiences over the next 10 years to cater for England’s ageing population, new research has claimed.

Engagement with audiences by theatres and other cultural organisations, along with their workforces, business models and use of technology, is set to change over the next decade, according to a report by development agency Nesta commissioned by Arts Council England.

The study said several demographic changes would impact cultural organisations between now and 2030, remarking that “one of the more predictable trends arts and cultural organisations will need to engage with over the next decade is the shift towards an ageing population”.

Estimates dictate that by 2030, 22% of the population will be over 65, as opposed to 18% today.

This offers both challenges and opportunities for the arts sector, the report said, claiming that engagement currently drops off once audiences reach 75.

However, the growing constituency of older people is described by the study’s authors as “an audience with considerable market power”.

“Will the arts be able to capitalise on demographic shifts to an ageing audience? A major area of focus for arts and cultural organisations will be around how they can effectively engage with an ageing population, and one which, at least for the next decade, will have a far greater proportion of leisure time to invest in cultural attractions and participation,” it said.

Culture’s role in mitigating some of the social and well-being problems associated with ageing is also addressed, with a prediction that organisations dedicated to embedding creativity in health could become increasingly prominent.

Elsewhere, the report pointed towards millennials – those born between the early 1980s and 2000 – who will represent an important section of consumers by 2030.

They will be the first “fully digitally immersed generation”, meaning harnessing technology is an important consideration, and will expect “novelty, choice and personalisation from cultural experiences”.

Other changes that will impact the sector over the next decade, the study claims, include:

  • The decline in public funding for the arts, forcing organisations to explore new business models and foster partnerships with other sectors.
  • The uncertainties around potential impacts of Brexit, particularly the supply of skills and talent.
  • The decline in arts education and knock-on effects this could have on the cultural workforce.
  • The need for organisations to be more experimental in exploiting new technologies.
  • The impact on audience diversity of high levels of economic inequality, meaning companies may need to take on broader social objectives.
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