New insights into audiences from Alan Brown and the OAC

Developing new audiences is necessarily a collaborative enterprise, and the Ontario Arts Council added considerably to the available body of knowledge on how people value and engage with the arts with its recently released Ontario Arts Engagement Study by Alan Brown. Alan returned to Toronto on October 13 to present the report’s findings and, once again, offered much food for thought to companies wrestling with the challenge of maintaining and expanding their audiences.
Unlike Creative Trust’s Audience Engagement Survey, which surveyed 3,662 audience members from 20 music, theatre, dance and opera companies on their engagement preferences, this study looks at arts participation in the general population across the Province, from traditional audience-based attendance to personal practice. It pays special attention to people’s participation via electronic, print and digital media. One of its key messages is that times have irretrievably changed: to ignore the internet and its place in people’s cultural lives is to imperil our future as professional artists and arts organizations. According to Alan, “This is how people sustain their interest in your art form” – and for young people, this is how they develop that interest. Balancing this is that for the 55% of the population who attend live events, their experiences are deeply meaningful and very important to them.
Another key message is that visible minorities have considerably higher engagement than the rest of the population in arts learning and other arts activities. This is surely good news for those of us working in a city as diverse as Toronto.
Clearly, we are going to have to be as inventive and creative around audience development as we are about our work on stage. The need to study, understand and make use of the information in the above reports and others in Creative Trust’s  Audiences Resources is a new requirement for marketers, managers and artists.
For the OAC, which set out to document the importance of arts activities to Ontarians, the study offers room for optimism: virtually everyone surveyed takes part in arts activities of some sort, and 95% of Ontarians say they would like to be doing more arts activities than they are doing now. This is a clear call to funders and policy makers to continue or strengthen their support for the arts, and work with the arts community to find new ways to bring art to people and people to art.
KEY FINDINGS of the Ontario Arts Engagement Study can be found here.

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