Arts Audiences in Ireland

At the end of 2018, the Arts Council of Ireland launched the results of a nationwide survey looking at participation and engagement with the arts in the Republic of Ireland. Their survey was conducted by Behaviour and Attitudes, looked at adults aged 16+ and had a sample size of 1,000.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast this research with what we know about audiences in Northern Ireland too. Here at thrive, we recently finished a piece of work for Belfast City Council, establishing a ‘cultural baseline’ for the city. We surveyed 2,200 people across the city about their cultural lives.

Of course, the two pieces of research are not directly comparable – one is national, one is city-specific, and they use different questions and sample sizes (1,000 in ROI, and 2,200 in Belfast). But there are some really interesting comparisons to be made.

You can read the full report on arts audiences for ROI, but here are some of the most interesting insights in the report.

There’s a high level of varied engagement in the arts

82% of Irish adults attended an arts event in the last 12 months. This includes rock and pop concerts (55% of people had been to one of those). But what would happen if you excluded film, musicals, stand-up comedy, rock and popular music? If we look solely at art forms traditionally funded by the Arts Council of Ireland, the figure is still high – coming in at 60% of all adults.

And engagement is not just high – it’s varied too. People are attending a wide variety of art forms, and don’t stick to just one type of event or activity.

In our Belfast research, we found a similar story, with the vast majority of people engaging in more than one activity or event, and 66% engaging in 6 or more during the year.

19% of the population make up over half of all arts attendance

The report goes into detail about what it calls the ‘aficionados’, a highly engaged group of loyal attenders who are responsible for more than half of all arts attendance in the country. These arts fans attend an average of 20.6 arts events in a year.

People experience the arts in a wide variety of venues

People are using a variety of venues to get their cultural fix. The three most popular are multiplex cinema (64% had been in the past year), an open air venue (31%) and a pub or hotel (31%). Theatre comes in just behind this at 24%.

Overall, 44% of arts attendance happened in an arts council funded venue. Leaving a huge amount of activity taking place in commercial, community, and mixed-use venues.

Another interesting trend in the report is the high level of arts engagement within the home. 27% of people engaged with arts performance in the home. This includes watching a live arts performance online (11%), watching a pre-recorded performance online (12%), or listening to plays or other dramas on the radio (11%). This high level of engagement at home echoes our Belfast research, which found really high participation levels at home.

Man driving a car and tuning the car radio

Having fun and socialising were the biggest motivators for attendance.

54% of people said they attended arts events to have fun or enjoy themselves. The next most popular motivation was ‘to spend time with friends/family’ (46%).

Coming in behind this were reasons such as ‘I like going to that type of event’ (34%), ‘To see a specific performer, artist or company’ (30%), and ‘To see a specific show or event’(28%).

The survey also asked why people didn’t attend. Lack of interest (35%), lack of time (30%) and cost (30%) were the biggest barriers for people. 

Lack of interest comes up as a big barrier in many other pieces of research we've seen over the years. It's something that can be tough to tackle. You can't simply re-market the same product and experience to people and hope they'll come. It requires a deeper examination of what you do, and who it is for.

Audiences are finding out about arts activities online.

Survey participants were asked ‘How do you usually find out about the arts events and activities you are interested in?’

  • Any online source – 70%
  • Television – 44%
  • Word of mouth – 35%
  • National Radio – 30%
  • Local Radio – 29%

There is broad public support for the arts

There was a broadly positive perception of the arts, and its importance in Irish life. This mirrors our research in Belfast where 91% of residents think arts and culture makes the city a better place to live.

So what now?

The Arts Council of Ireland is planning to repeat the survey each year and keep tracking changes in arts engagement and perception across the country.

There are some clear challenges and opportunities here for audience development. With the ‘aficionados’ making up over half of all arts attendance, organisations will need to ensure they stay engaged and can act as ambassadors for the arts. More targeted interventions will be needed to reach those who aren’t engaging as often.

From a marketing standpoint, this research strongly suggests that for a lot of people, we need to be selling the arts as a fun or social experience. Of course, this will depend on the art form and the target audience. Collaboration and cross-promotion are also vital to appeal to audiences who aren’t loyal to one particular art form

When talking about ‘the arts’ or ‘arts and culture’ we should be widening the conversation to include activity taking place online, at home, and in non-traditional arts venues. This came through strongly in both the Arts Council Ireland and the Belfast research. The good news story here is that there’s a huge appetite for culture in both countries, and this can be supported and encouraged in many different ways.

Building your own audience story

Large-scale research like this is so important, especially for understanding audience cross-over between different art forms, and the barriers for non-attenders. Combining these insights with detailed research on your own specific audiences can really highlight your opportunities for growth. If you’d like to talk through your own audiences with us, drop us a line or book a free audience appointment.

A national survey from Arts Council of Ireland looking at attendance and participation in the arts in ROI.

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