New analysis of the longitudinal household survey Taking Part has shown that engagement in heritage and visits to museums and galleries have increased significantly for almost all demographic groups in the period 2005/06 to 2015/16, whilst overall engagement with the arts has remained stable. And, despite evidence that engagement levels are generally higher for the white ethnic group, the upper socio-economic group and for those with no long-standing illness or disability (for arts engagement at least), this engagement gap is starting to narrow.
The latest report, released by DCMS in late April, examines trends for adults in cultural engagement over the period 2005/06 to 2015/16, focusing on differences by ethnicity, socio-economic group, disability status and region.
The analysis shows that engagement with the arts has remained more or less stable for both white and black and minority ethnic groups over the period 2005/06 to 2015/16, with engagement being consistently higher for the white ethnic group. This pattern, however, is reversed when it comes to public libraries. The proportion of adults that used libraries was significantly lower across all ethnic groups in 2015/16 than 2005/06. And, across all years, public library use was significantly lower in the white ethnic group than the black and Asian ethnic groups.
The research also shows that across all cultural activities, engagement levels are consistently higher for the upper socio-economic group than the lower socio-economic group. However, whilst the levels of arts engagement for the lower socio-economic group were similar in 2015/16 to 2005/06, for the upper socio-economic groups they were significantly lower in 2015/16 than 2005/06. This has resulted in a slight decrease in the engagement gap between the two groups, from 20.0 percentage points in 2005/06 to 16.5 percentage points in 2015/16.
This reduction in the engagement gap is also evident when looking at disability status in more detail. The period from 2005/06 to 2015/16 has seen a significant increase in the number of adults with a long-standing illness or disability engaging with arts and culture. This has meant that, although the level of engagement amongst those with no disability remains consistently higher, the gap in engagement has reduced from 9.2 to 4.6 percentage points.
Understanding the numerous ways in which people participate, engage in and shape their own cultural lives is not straightforward. Over recent years, projects such as Everyday Creativity and Creative, People and Places have reflected an increased awareness that people’s cultural participation and creativity manifests in wide-ranging ways. And we know from our own research that children and young people’s definitions of arts and cultural engagement may not align with that of policymakers. This all reminds us that there is a need to resist using data like Taking Part to draw definitive conclusions about certain demographic groups being more culturally active or others less engaged.
Nonetheless, as recent reports from the likes of Arts Council England and the London Assembly have pointed out, gathering data and intelligence on who is engaging with which cultural opportunities is crucial to making effective decisions and ensuring equity of access to a place’s arts and cultural assets. New analysis of existing data, as is offered in this report, is a useful contribution to the effort.
Photo credit: Roger Brown for A New Direction