Who spends money on attending the performing arts?

And who doesn’t? Well, for one, households where respondents have a disability spend relatively little on the performing arts.

Education ranks high as a factor in arts spending according to Patterns in Performing Arts Spending in Canada in 2008, a report in the Statistical Insights on the Arts series from Hill Strategies Research*. The percentage of households spending money on live performing arts increases hugely with the education of the survey respondent, from 14% of those without a secondary school diploma to over 50% where the respondent has a university education. This should not be a surprise.

Residents of large cities are also likely to spend money on the performing arts: 39% of residents of cities with populations of 100,000 or more reported spending money on live performing arts in 2008. Again, no surprise.

But the big difference in the percentage of households spending money to attend live performances where the respondent has a disability (24%) compared to households where the respondent does not (39%) is, perhaps, surprising and definitely worth looking at more closely.

Given that Ontario households that spend money on the performing arts spend an average of $330 annually, our theatres’ failures to provide real access to people who are blind/low vision or Deaf/hard of hearing is a lost opportunity in more ways than one.

We’ve been getting audience feedback from people who attended audio described or sign language interpreted shows over the past season as part of Creative Trust’s and Picasso PRO’s Sun Life Performing Arts Access Program. Here are some responses from a performance of Bethune Imagined at Factory Theatre on November 30, 2010, attended by 20 blind and low-vision audience members plus 18 companions:

  • “The descriptions were so enlightening that they provided much greater enjoyment of the play than would have been possible without them.”
  • “I was delighted to have access to what was going on, it really made the play come alive and I haven’t had quite so good an experience in a theatre for a number of years, as I’m always missing things.”
  • “I do want to see more audio-described plays. Thank you so much for putting on a fabulous event.”
  • “The narration before the play started was very good. At least I knew about costumes and colours and space, instead of always having to ask my husband.”
  • “It made a dramatic difference to my ability to enjoy the performance and to understand what was taking place on stage.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “Thank you.”

This is one audience development challenge where the solution is right in front of our eyes – and accessible, thanks to Sun Life Financial, to Creative Trust companies.

*Data drawn from Statistics Canada’s annual Survey of Household Spending for 2008, which asked 9,787 Canadian households: “How much did your household spend on admissions to live performing arts events, for example, plays, concerts, dance performances?”

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