9 in 10 arts audiences will return as pandemic fears ease

A national survey of over 23,000 respondents shows that 67% of audiences will return to arts venues once they believe the risk of COVID-19 transmission is minimal, although 11% won’t be back until risk of infection has completely abated.

Arts audiences are keen to return to theatres, galleries, museums and festivals once they know it is safe to do so, according to new data released today (Monday 18 May).

Research conducted by Patternmakers (Sydney) and WolfBrown (USA) has revealed that 85% of audiences plan to return to arts and cultural events in the future, with 78% planning to attend just as they did in the past and 7% attending more frequently.

The research – conducted in collaboration with the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, Create NSW, Arts Queensland, Department of Premier and Cabinet (Arts SA) and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (Western Australia) – also reveals that 22% of audiences will be comfortable attending arts events as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.      

Sixty seven percent said they will attend once they deem the risk of transmission to be minimal, while 11% of respondents won’t be back until the risk of infection has completely abated.

The figures are based on a survey of over 23,000 respondents across the country, with the poll distributed by 159 organisations, ranging from the country’s largest companies to micro-organisations in regional Australia.

Audiences in the Northern Territory (NT), South Australia (SA) and Western Australia (WA) demonstrated higher levels of comfort attending performance venues compared with other states and territories – likely to be linked with low transmission rates in these regions.

The research shows that most audiences would generally feel encouraged by measures like disinfecting public areas (89%) and providing hand sanitiser (89%). There is also general support for social distancing measures, and most performing arts subscribers would be encouraged to attend if patrons were seated apart according to relevant public health guidelines (83%).

The outlook for museums and galleries is looking positive with most audiences saying they would be at least ‘somewhat comfortable’ walking around a museum or gallery (88%) or visiting a community art space (80%) today, if they were open and following recommended safety procedures.

Read: Why art museums will open before performing arts venues

ArtsHub’s own reader survey, conducted between 8-11 May, found that 26.9% of respondents would be willing to attend live events from day one of restrictions being lifted, with 45.2% saying they would wait a month before attending a live event once restrictions were eased.

The results of Patternmakers/WolfBrown’s Audience Outlook Monitor show that the vast majority of respondents (93%) say they will be most interested in returning to the same kinds of events they used to attend prior to COVID-19 restrictions.

‘Creativity will be vital to our national recovery as we seek to bring life back into our cities and regions. This research provides valuable and promising insights into the future of the cultural and creative sector, while highlighting the initial challenges in encouraging audiences to return to live experiences,’ said CEO Australia Council Adrian Collette AM.

‘It will be cultural experiences that will have people hitting the road for domestic tourism, and the shared experiences of live performances and public events that will draw us back into our urban and regional centres and their restaurants, bars and cafes. This will play a critical role in boosting consumer confidence overall.’

Baseline data was collected in May 2020 in a cross-sector collaborative survey involving museums, galleries, performing arts organisations and festivals.

Simultaneously, these 159 organisations sent a survey to a random sample of their audiences, who had attended a cultural event, such as a concert, exhibition, festival, author talk or art workshop since January 2018.

As well as documenting their desire to return to arts events, the research also shows that three-quarters of audiences are participating in arts and culture online, including watching live-streamed events (42%), or doing online classes or tutorials (36%).

Creativity among respondents is also up: 46%  of audience members said they are being creative at home more frequently than before the pandemic, and most of those (89%) are planning to continue doing so after the pandemic.

Read: Post-COVID-19 participation – What we can learn from sports audiences

The Audience Outlook Monitor will collect data again in July and September, to track how audience sentiment changes as conditions change once people are allowed to gather in larger groups.

Tandi Palmer Williams, Managing Director of research agency Patternmakers said: ‘By capturing this level of detail about changing attitudes and behaviours among audiences, we can provide artists and cultural organisations with timely information to plan ahead and make the best possible decisions about re-opening.’

For more information about the study, visit the Audience Outlook Monitor website.

Performing Arts Editor
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