BLOG 14th June 2023

What is the impact of arts and culture attendance?

At the end of May, we started talking to venues from across Northern Ireland as part of the first steps of building our IMPACT Survey. Our first workshop took place in the Crescent Arts Centre, with venues across different art forms represented. We got some interesting feedback from attendees on the impact of attending distinct types of arts and cultural activities on audiences.

Visual arts

Visual art galleries were considered by group members to be safe and welcoming places, where people are free to visit and enjoy the art, without the need for language or prior knowledge of the art to appreciate it. At galleries, there is less pressure to attend in groups – people can come and go as they please, with others for a social visit or on their own for introspection or me-time. People have the freedom to walk around at their own pace, as there are no set start/end times, unlike with other art forms. Group members noted that content can help to challenge people, or inspire a sense of community pride when they see the work of local artists. Others also mentioned the impact of attending an exhibition is often specific to the individual attendee – they’re free to interpret the art as they like, and so the impact an exhibition has is determined by the attendee’s relationship to the art.

Theatre and Musicals

Theatre and musicals were described as having a social impact, with the theatre being a space to make memories and enabling people to connect with friends and family. More specifically, the pantomime was praised for being a space for family bonding and the development of new traditions. Our group members also noted that the audience itself can foster a sense of community and belonging, with people in the audience often sharing reactions and emotions.

Live music

Live music was described by the group as having a physical effect on audiences, where people can be immersed and ‘part of the music,’ partly due to how close in proximity audiences can be to the performer, proximity to others in the crowd, and feeling the vibrations of the music itself. This sets it apart from other art forms, where music can bring friends and strangers together as a shared escape, with others in the audience often singing along with the artist. One group member noted that audiences tend to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of local artists, which can inspire a sense of pride in the community.

The caveat to all of this is accessibility – does the ease with which audiences can access these events influence their impact? Barriers like location and affordability seem to be impeding arts and culture venues from having the impact they’d like to on audiences, as well as keeping those audiences from interacting with arts and culture as freely as they might want to. When audiences do engage, access barriers can be mitigating factors; worries about how they’re getting home, or how much money they’ve spent can keep an audience member from feeling the impacts of a given event to their full effect.

When audience expectations don’t align with what’s offered at an event, it can negatively affect how it’s received and have a knock-on effect on audience impact. It was put forward that older people with more disposable income might be happier to take risks on a new kind of experience. Without the worries surrounding supporting a family or paying a mortgage, there’s less pressure on the events you choose to attend to be worth the expense, meaning the impact can be felt more acutely. For families, it’s important that the event keeps their kids engaged so they can relax. Seating, customer service, and accessibility are also factors audiences have expectations about, and when those aren’t met, it can take a toll on overall satisfaction and ultimately mar the impact of the cultural experience.

Over the next month, we want to hear from you – what are your views around the impact of cultural attendance? We’ll be hosting two workshops with cultural organisations to shape the survey – one on 5th July in the Black Box in Belfast, and on 26th July in the Derry Playhouse. To register, email Eve at

You can also read more about our IMPACT Survey, and to sign up to the project itself, fill out this quick form here.

The IMPACT Survey is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Eve Murtagh

Sector Programme Coordinator

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