The next Canada and the arts

by Jini Stolk

The “debate over audience diversity” recently discussed by Kate Taylor in the Globe and Mail is, as was pointed out, more a necessity than a debate. And the answer to the question of where it should start seems to me to be “everywhere, in many companies, in many different ways” – until, as the wonderful Jovanni Sy of the Gateway Theatre is hoping, audiences’ attendance patterns reflect their diverse artistic interests more than their ethnic backgrounds.

The Pew Research group’s fascinating report on the demographic future of the United States (described by The Nonprofit Quarterly as “one of the most beautifully executed yet content rich interactive posts we have seen“) has been generating a lot of discussion about the speedy pace of change in racial dynamics to our south – but also about the “graying of America.” The study projects that the combination of low birthrates and people living longer is creating an American future where the average person will be much older than at any point in history. This too has huge implications for those of us who work in the arts, particularly the performing arts. The need to focus on the lifetime value of an audience member requires renewed efforts not just to bring in and diversify audiences, but also to engage and retain them over the long-term.

The author of The Next America says that “Demographic transformations are dramas in slow motion. America is in the midst of two right now. Our population is becoming majority non-white at the same time a record share is going gray. Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era. The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.”

Since the demographic changes he describes also exist in Canada, they may also up-end our approaches to audience development.

A new study by Hill Strategies Research Inc., provides a look at Diversity and Arts Attendance by Canadians in 2010, examining arts attendance by eight “diverse” demographic groups including visible minority Canadians, first-generation immigrants, Aboriginal people, Canadians with disabilities, Youth (15 to 24 years of age) and Seniors (65 and older).

Alan Brown’s A Study of College Student Preferences towards Music and the Performing Arts for The Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College provides insights into how to draw the elusive young adults audience into arts programs and how to engage the next generation of audiences. The research is available for download from


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