Based on a two-year research process, this study attempted to “gain a better understanding of how residents engage with the arts at a community level, explore barriers to arts access, and identify ways to strengthen local arts engagement”. The study’s 17 researchers made “300 connections” including interviews, focus groups, and surveys with 191 “residents, artists, arts groups and social service organizations” in three Toronto neighbourhoods: Malvern, St. James Town, and Weston Mount Dennis.
Beyond simple attendance rates, what can be said of the outcomes of cultural participation? Are there relationships and connections that have broader social impacts? One participant noted that a recent Italian study found a direct correlation between cultural consumption and individual wellbeing. A symposium speaker indicated that Canadian research has shown strong correlations between arts participation and positive social outcomes. The key question of outcomes research, as phrased by one speaker, is “How do we think about healthy places?”
Who uses arts participation data? Are the data used by arts organizations to improve their connections to audiences? Are the data connected to arts policy? One speaker argued that many artists and arts administrators have a hunger to better understand the world in which they work, especially the trends shaping demand for the arts. Some noted that involving arts administrators in survey design might improve their use of surveys.
Arguing that current practices are unsustainable, some speakers outlined how “big data” or “organic data” could be combined with sample surveys in order to better track and study human behaviour. Organic data can be thought of as data that are captured as part of other processes (e.g., Google searches, data scraped from websites, tweets, retail scanners, credit card transactions, etc.). It was argued that this type of data, which can be nearly real time, is better at capturing people’s behaviour than their values and opinions. Challenges related to organic data include privacy concerns, the high computing power required to “scrape” records, and the current lack of data mining techniques that could combine imperfectly coordinated datasets.
In an environment of media convergence and digital multi-tasking (with many people paying only partial attention to multiple concurrent tasks), can arts participation surveys capture an accurate picture of people’s activities? Some participants argued that behaviour is observable without a survey, but attitudes, thoughts, and feelings can best be captured by surveys. Others contended that, without benchmark surveys, our understanding of cultural participation would be significantly lessened.
The symposium tackled some large and challenging questions, such as “what counts as ‘the arts’? and “what do people consider culture?” In many jurisdictions, there has been a broadening of the types of cultural participation or engagement factors measured via surveys. The complexities of cultural participation in a digital world were discussed at the symposium. The importance of places and spaces to cultural participation was also discussed. The complicated reality of cultural participation is difficult to measure.
The report notes that, other than a few differences, diverse Canadians attended at similar rates to other Canadians. Based on these findings, the report concludes that “the range of arts offerings in Canada – from art galleries, classical concerts, and theatre performances to pop concerts and cultural festivals – manages to attract most Canadians to at least one type of activity."
This study examines cultural and sports participation by off-reserve Aboriginal children between 6 and 14 years of age, based on the 2006 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (a survey with 11,940 respondents). As reported by parents, the survey found that 40% of Aboriginal children participated at least occasionally “in culturally related activities” (no specific definition provided), while 69% participated at least once a week in sports-related activities.
The National Endowment for the Arts' 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts collected data about the arts activities of more than 37,000 Americans 18 years of age and older. The report provides key arts participation figures.
Based on a survey of 1,005 English-speaking Canadians 18 years of age or older who had bought a book during the month prior to the survey (which was conducted between July and September of 2012), this report finds that only 24% knew that they had read a book by a Canadian author in the past year. In total, 43% of English-speaking Canadian book buyers were unsure whether they had read a book by a Canadian author, while 34% indicated that they knew that they had not done so during the past year.