Cultural capital?

Inquiry into inequality of access to culture for children and young people in London.

Equality of access to the arts and culture is central to our work at A New Direction. The purpose of the Cultural Capital Inquiry is to open up a space for research and debate within the sector about how disadvantage impacts on young Londoners’ ability and decision to engage with arts and culture.

Broadly, we are interested in understanding the idea that engagement in art and culture through childhood contributes to becoming a well-rounded individual, better able to access opportunities and navigate choices as you get older – we refer to this idea as Cultural Capital. In more simple terms, we want to understand which children and young people are engaging in arts and culture which are not, the possible barriers to entry and how these differ from those of young people living in different circumstances.

Cultural Capital Survey

Following activity last year looking at the poverty profile of London we wanted to explore the extent to which wealth inequality plays a part in stopping young people being able to take part in arts and culture.

Our Cultural Capital Survey, conducted in the first half of 2014, suggests that young people from low income backgrounds take part less in every category of arts and culture than their peers; in particular, they have less engagement with regular clubs outside of school. It also hints at more complex psychological barriers which lead many young people to ‘opt-out’ of participation. You can find the full research results below. The full overview of the research provides a narrative for the key findings and contextualises them alongside other work in the field.

Download a quick two-page summary of the research

Download a full overview of the research

Download the full research results

Cultural Capital Qualitative Research

While the focus on financial disadvantage proved a useful approach within the Cultural Capital Survey, we know that in practice, although often correlated to financial circumstances, the notion of disadvantage is much more complex and multi-faceted.

Our Cultural Capital Qualitative Research seeks to address this by looking at four groups of young people facing specific forms of disadvantage - young people who are looked after, young carers, disabled young people and those at risk of gang activity. The research highlights the importance of social capital (i.e. social networks such as families, friends, schools) in building cultural interventions that genuinely engage disadvantaged young people and can be sustained over time.

It also reinforces the notion that, despite creativity being an integral part of young people’s lives, traditional notions of arts and culture often do not resonate with them. In this sense, it is key that cultural interventions aiming at involving young people – and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – take them through a journey over time that starts 'from where they are at', and encourages them to further explore and sustain their interest in arts and culture.

You can download the full report and the rapid review of literature below:

Download Disadvantage and cultural engagement – Report

Download Disadvantage and cultural engagement - Rapid Review of Literature


Our Cultural Capital research is a starting point for a wider discussion with the cultural and the formal/informal education sector about what can be done to ensure that young people from all socio-economic backgrounds have access to arts and culture.
Read some of the responses we have received so far >

Cultural Capital Film - A chat with Lara and Stella

Lara Stavrinou, programme manager for A New Direction’s Strong Voices and Stella Barnes, Ovalhouse’s Participation Director discuss why A New Direction’s research is interesting and relevant to their programmes with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people and what should be done to ensure fair access and cultural capital.

Get involved

To help unpack these issues, we are opening up a space for debate and inquiry which will culminate in a conference on 17 March 2015 at Goldsmiths' Centre in London. Find out more here.

The three main questions we want to explore are:

  • What’s going on in terms of engagement? Do we know which children and young people are not engaging in arts and culture and why?
  • Why does it matter? What is the impact of zero or limited engagement and is it significant?
  • What could be done to change the picture and whose responsibility is this?

We would welcome suggestions of existing research which is relevant to this inquiry as well as contributions to the debate and ideas for blogs and other forms of discussion.

We are inviting comments from parents, young people, cultural organisations, academics, those working in education etc, which help contribute ideas for further research, for campaigns and action that can help build more equal access to the arts and culture for all children young people in London.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion, email us or tweet via the hashtag #ANDCulturalCapital



Cultural Capital - Summary doc 402.2KiB

Overview of Cultural Capital Reseach doc 767.1KiB

Cultural Capital Quant Survey Results doc 1.3MiB