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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Have we lost interest in the arts?

New research suggests that arts audiences are declining, despite record levels of public funding.

The report by the think-tank The Policy Studies Institute says that this shatters government claims of success for its policies on increasing access and promoting excellence.

The report shows that the percentage of adults attending arts events are either static or falling across such areas as plays, opera, ballet and art galleries.

It estimates audiences for ballet fell by 14%, theatre by 8% and cinema attendence failed to rise by more than 6% between 1986 and 1996.

Are we losing interest in the arts? Why aren't we going to the cinema anymore? Why isn't government funding helping?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Until art becomes interesting again, I'm not surprised. If I want to look at a mattress propped against a wall I can do that myself.
Paul, Isle of Man

Now it has competition from better forms of art like movies and the Internet

David, USA
It's no big surprise that interest in art is in decline. Art has been a form of entertainment and enjoyment for thousands of years, now it has competition from better forms of art like movies and the Internet.
David, USA

I think the situation has hardly changed. As an artist, I may like or dislike trends, pieces, movements, critics. But the public has rarely caught on. Art is for the esoteric few, not for the masses. So who cares?
Achala, USA

I've just looked at the price of tickets to see opera and ballet in London. Erm, no thanks - for that cost, I can do several days touring in the Med, complete with accommodation and budget airline tickets - which seems more healthy than craning my neck at the back of an auditorium for a few hours, irrelevant of the quality of the production.
John Kirriemuir, Glasgow, Scotland

Maybe ticket sales are simply too expensive

Cristina, USA
How can they measure art gallery viewing unless they are talking about art museum viewing? Also, maybe ticket sales are simply too expensive. Speaking as a New Yorker, tickets for most cultural events are ridiculously high. If one couples ticket prices with dinner - so much for a night out on the town!
Cristina, USA

I come from a fairly large market town (30k people). This is what a trip to the cinema with my girlfriend costs and why: 2 tickets - 10 (with student concession, but with booking fee added). 5 petrol for the half hour car journey (and back). The cinema in my town has been turned into a gym. Public transport would require about four hours travelling for 20 miles down the road, so I take the car. 7 ice creams (3.50 each! 4 with hot fudge!). 3 drinks. So that totals 25! Imagine if I went to the theatre with student tickets at 20+ each! A DVD costs 3.50 to rent. Do the math.
Andrew Otty, England

When TV and the media cater for the lowest common denominator, I am hardly surprised that the Arts are failing. We are teaching not just the young but everyone to be dismissive of something that takes a bit of mental effort. Every time I am asked why I am reading a book, visiting an art gallery, or listening to Radio 4, by mainly older people than myself, it brings home to me how 'dumbed down' we've allowed our country to be. If the BBC/ITV would put on more prime time arts programmes, if the Sun would have a Page 3 Old Master, perhaps then...
Kirsty, England

Why do we assume that art requires funding?

Richard Hough, UK
Why do we assume that art requires funding? Surely the world's greatest art works came from the hearts and hands of incredible people who produced the work because they were driven to it? Perhaps we shouldn't expect people like Tracey Emin to be able to create anything worth looking at whilst they are being funded. Maybe they need to get a dose of hard luck, a bit like a Blues singer? Why not totally withdraw public funding and let the cream rise naturally?
Richard Hough, UK

It is sad that so many believe that the "arts" such as opera and ballet are for "toffs" and are priced accordingly. Although the most expensive seats in the Royal Opera House are 150, the cheapest seats are 3-5. Instead of the petty name-calling of those people who attend such events, why not encourage funding to keep ticket prices low so that the events are accessible to people from all income brackets? Or is this just another part of our culture that we're willing to throw away for fear of being called snobs?
Deborah Thomas, UK

Let's be honest here, the arts aren't very interesting, and that is why only a minority of people attend. As time passes the number of middle class people who think they should engage in 'middle class' activities also would seem to be falling.
Stuart Irving, England.

If you want an audience, you must teach them how to participate

James Mitchell, US
Public funding will not halt declining participation in the arts. Real art has very little to do with money. Education is the key. Take the kids to the theatre, teach them how to dance, how to paint, and encourage them to sing. Real art is a dialogue between the artist(s) and the audience. If you want an audience, you must teach them how to participate.
James Mitchell, US

There's too much snobbery associated with fine art or classic art (with appropriate prices to match) - and let's face it, most people find modern art laughable, even if there are less well-known pieces with actual merit (probably hidden behind half a frozen cow).
Stuart Gardner, Liverpool, UK

The reason the arts are losing popularity is that the public have finally lost interest in the pretentious rubbish churned out by the art industry. The capacity for self-deception amongst both artists and critics no longer recognises any limits. Frankly it's rubbish - that's why nobody goes. Witness the interest in historical retrospectives, collections of past masters etc. The public are not dumbing down, far from it, they are wising up.
Eddy Gray, England

Let me rephrase that question: has art lost interest in us?

Dieter Mueller, Germany
Let me rephrase that question: has art lost interest in us?! A lot of modern art is so far out that it has lost contact with the less artsy and intellectual rest of us. And why should we bother? - global (advertising) pop art gets delivered right to your desk via Internet and TV.
Dieter Mueller, Germany

After going to the Tate in Liverpool, it seems art is about shocking and lack of talent. As someone else said, any idiot can spray paint on an apple core. I wish my washing up was considered art! Quite frankly, I can understand Italian and still find opera boring! Does anybody still make beautiful paintings or statues, instead of hybrid banana-dog (Liverpool again) creatures? What about beautiful buildings? Most buildings nowadays are bricks and concrete, with no detail whatsoever. Any 1800s house beats any modern office or house artistically!
Jose, England

I think most of us are becoming more and more superficial and ambitious, ignoring the small pleasures of everyday. Simply we are failing to live in the "here and now" leading to a distorted image of life, thus our interests in arts and aesthetics are only to the extent of "an escape" rather than appreciation and joy.
Vijay, USA

I think this report just hints at the bigger picture

Jubilee Lang, USA
It is unfortunate we don't need artists like we need accountants. But I think this report just hints at the bigger picture. We have less time (and money) for everything. From the theatre to spending quality time with our children, today's society stymies us. And I think until we realise the benefits of the arts (eg entertainment, social commentary, beauty, cultural and technological advancement etc), we will see support dwindle even more. As an artist, this concerns me, but as an accountant also, bring on the debits and credits, baby!
Jubilee Lang, USA

The fact that attendance is declining may have something to do with more people working longer hours, wanting to 'switch off' and watch undemanding TV, eg 'Big Brother', in the evenings rather than making the effort to be stimulated by an arts event. Also the quality of public transport might have made a difference to attendance figures. I sometimes attend arts events on my own, but during the winter months especially, often think twice before travelling back home (through London) on public transport. Surely lifestyle factors such as these need to be taken into consideration rather than just assuming that there is something wrong with arts events per se - certainly in London, there seems to be something available for everyone!
Jo Ezekiel, England

In reality, theatre and film are competing in exactly the same market place for exactly the same audience. It would not be sensible to assume that theatre can continue to pull the same audiences now that people have more choice. There is an inherent snobbery in asking the question in the first place - the assumption that the older medium, theatre, is somehow worth more than film. This is as stupid as saying that hand paintings on caves are somehow better than Roman sculpture, or Renaissance painting. Unfortunately, those who like to think the have the moral high ground in such debates seem to be totally indoctrinated with the belief that age is more important than quality.
Liam, Germany/UK

Culturally we are now citizens of an impoverished nation

Valerie, UK
Is it me, or has a great 'dumbing-down' of British popular culture taken place over the past decade? Not so long ago, our modern music was considered the best and most innovative in the world. Nowadays, it is all too often a mindless, repetitive and plagiaristic techno-tribal dirge. It takes no great talent or skill, either to create it or to replicate it. British TV has wandered the same bleak and bankrupt path. Culturally we are now citizens of an impoverished nation due to our seemingly fixated obsession with all things venal, shallow, transient, cheap, and banal.
Valerie, UK

The arts have been dumbed-down, and the word is now very loosely applied. Here in the US, public television - the equivalent of commercial television with cultural pretensions - has led the charge by placing its cultural imprimatur on the bogus art of "The Three Tenors", Charlotte Church, Andrea Bocelli, etc. And a chorus of fawning sycophants sings "Amen".
Paul Ricchi , USA

Perhaps people are now being more honest with themselves than they used to be: they are admitting that they prefer watching a good movie to sitting through some tired old production of Medea; that they prefer rock and pop melodies to the shrill screeching of opera; that they cannot really see the point of "dance". The problem with the traditional arts is that they are often simply boring, and an honest low-brow who admits this is better off than a phoney high-brow who cannot wait to get home and turn on the telly.
Peter Smith, London, UK

Stop moaning, switch the telly off and look in your local paper

Charlotte, UK
Come on everyone, instead of sitting on your backsides gawping at Big Brother/Survivor/the latest 'docusoap' etc, get out there and take in a concert, art gallery, dance production or opera. People who think it is elitist are talking rubbish - you can go to the Proms for a fiver you know!! Yes, yes I know they're in London but I have just come back from singing in a concert in a tiny church in North Wales and the weekend before that I was singing in Dorking! Stop moaning, switch the telly off and look in your local paper - there's LOADS to do!
Charlotte, UK

I would love to spend time visiting fantastic works of art, plays, shows etc but since I have the (mis)fortune to live outside London the opportunities to see the major events are extremely limited. I find travelling into London a right royal pain and huge expense and feel very strongly that major events/exhibitions should not receive government or lottery subsidies unless they go on a comprehensive nationwide tour.
Helen, UK

Three months before the Labour Government came to power in May 1997, I sat in a conference as part of a weekend festival dedicated to promoting non-mainstream music (classical, jazz, world music). Chris Smith was the keynote speaker at that conference and made some very bold statements about what he and his colleagues planned to do to get the arts on the map in this country. None of the initiatives he spoke of then have been carried through. There may be, in fact, just too much choice. How many people do you know who say yes to a handful of plans for a night out, or a trip to somewhere - keep their options open - and then either just go to one, or simply stay in?
Alf Goodrich, UK

A lot of artists have lost interest in producing art

Andrew Day, UK
A lot of artists have lost interest in producing art - they are only interested in the next set of the Emperor's new clothes. The general populace knows rubbish when it sees it and surprisingly enough they are not interested in it.
Andrew Day, UK

David Heffron, you couldn't be more wrong! The theatre is very much and alive and well in the rest of the country, in particular the South West which includes Devon where I reside. I am part of no less than 4 drama groups, and we have put on a huge range of shows, always with more than adequate advertising. Over the last 2 years, audiences have been dwindling and seem to be cursed with the most curious blend of apathy I've ever seen. I have no idea why.
Tracey Dare, England

I do wish inverted snobs would stop perpetuating the myth that opera is financially exclusive. It's much cheaper to go to the opera or theatre than to a pop concert or football match (assuming you're lucky enough to be able to get a ticket to a Premier League match). Quite reasonable seats can be purchased for between ten and fifteen pounds, both in London and the provinces.

We have lost our interest in thinking, which is why our interest in art - good art, anyway - has slowly atrophied over the years. In truth, we are surrounded by beauty and wonder every single day. Our blindness to this magic is the single greatest malady of our age.
Robert del Valle, USA

My fear is that this report will lead to less Verdi and more Disney

Mark Stevens, Denmark
If anything, there's been too much promotion of the arts as entertainment rather than as a life enriching or changing experience. Perhaps people need less entertaining and more challenging. My fear is that this report will lead to less Verdi and more Disney. The 'I know what I like crowd' will lead us into cultural stagnation and regression.
Mark Stevens, Denmark (UK citizen)

I think the point of funding for the arts is to provide money for things that may not appeal to all. You can complain that plays and exhibitions don't attract mass audiences, but why should they? If cultural attractions are all brought down to the level of reality television then we've got an even bigger problem.
Robert, Belgium (British)

Arts funding in the UK is one of the most appalling rackets of our time. The Arts Council of UK will this year spend 93% of its 40 million pound music budget on Opera which has an audience of about 6% of the population. By contrast jazz, which has a similar audience size, receives 25,000 - 0.06 per cent of the budget. This shocking abuse of public funds is a complete disgrace to the arts world.
This budget information can be viewed at
Ian Latham, UK

Artists need audiences as much as audiences need art and both change all the time

Ian, England
I get the impression this is a bit of a storm in a teacup. Artists need audiences as much as audiences need art and both change all the time. I think it's more helpful to think of art as more or less accessible rather than good or bad; usually when it's less accessible you have to work harder to get something out of it but the effort is usually worthwhile. So all this is probably symptomatic of deep trends that are difficult to read.
Ian, England

The levels of people are not really falling, just taking interest in the wider range of things available. While some of you people would be outraged to acknowledge anything other than traditional art, art these days is not so much as a generalised opinion but more of something else which is unique to ever individual.
Chris LeBaron, UK

So, Robert Crosby, the reason I don't go to the cinema or theatre is because I'm too materialistic, is it? Obviously Mr Crosby is not living in the most expensive city in the UK! While he may be able to blow sixty pounds (or more) on a couple of tickets to the ballet or opera, I have other, more important bills to pay (rent, electricity, etc). My husband and I have seen all of the free and almost-free arts exhibitions in the area, but we can't afford to go to the theatre at all, and to the cinema only rarely. It's a question of degree - for some, acceptable subsidies will drop entry prices from eighty pounds to thirty pounds, but for the rest of us, even thirty pounds is way too much to pay.
Debbie, London, UK

It is close to impossible to get seats at the last night of the Proms

Christopher Laird, Japan
The generation that grew up in the video/computer age are now maturing which means fewer people with a "classical" upbringing. Talking to the teenagers who I know in the UK, I see less education in the arts than 10-15 years ago. Without this foundation, audiences will never increase. The real danger is that there will be less interest in actually becoming an artist (ballet, etc) and that these arts may die out relatively quickly. HOWEVER, the last time I was in the UK it was still quite difficult to get seats at ENO, and it is close to impossible to get seats at the last night of the Proms (or many other Proms), so we're a long way from a disaster.
Christopher Laird, Japan

When "art" these days seems to mean a pile of bricks with a spray-painted apple core on top it's not surprising people lose interest. Any idiot can spray-paint an apple core. By some people's standards it would appear that the contents of any dustbin are art, as is just about every student bedroom in the country. I wish I'd known I could sell my university bedroom contents for 50,000 or more - it certainly beats working for a living.
John B, UK

In the case of opera and ballet, there is still the image of being "high brow". On most of the Continent, these pleasures are viewed on par with popular plays and cinema, and priced accordingly.
John Atkins, UK

Where will tomorrow's beauty come from?

Bob, UK
Robert Crosby hits the nail on the head when he says we only measure in terms of monetary value. In sport, every talented competitor is now measured by their earning potential, sponsorship deal or latest transfer fee, every musician by their net worth or royalties income and artists by how much they can sell an unmade bed for on the open market. What have we done? Where will tomorrow's beauty come from?
Bob, UK

Cinemas are a rip off. My local multiplex charges 6 for an adult ticket! Why should I pay this price when I can wait a few months and see it on pay-per-view cable or video for 2.99?
Andrew Stratt, UK

Public spending on the arts is way too high. The arts after all, only cater to the minority of so-called 'upper-class' people. More money should be spent on inner city development, and other causes which make a real difference to people's lives. Ballet, opera and other frivolous activities should be made self-financing and the public money saved should be redirected to projects based on helping poorer people in the inner cities.
Rahul Mahajan, UK

Interest in the arts would increase if more people were made aware of what's on offer in their area

David Heffron, Scotland
Interest in the arts would increase if more people were made aware of what's on offer in their area. While there's a massive amount of theatre, opera and exhibitions in London there is less around the rest of the country. Increased media exposure seems to be the first step in promoting art to the general public.
David Heffron, Scotland

The relegation of arts and culturally related TV programmes to the late hours, whilst 'peak' viewing times are filled with programming aimed at satisfying a lowest common denominator, does not encourage people to take an interest in subjects which may challenge their intellects. Television is a medium which touches most of our lives and has the capability to enrich and spark interest in the world around us. The schedulers should not always be led by the desire to top the viewing statistics.
Chris, UK

I can't believe cinema audiences are falling. Here in North East England we have many new multiscreen cinemas opening. Surely companies would not build them if there was not demand? As for ballet and theatre, there is very little scope to see it outside London, it is expensive, and this may sound petty, but usually starts too early (7:30pm). I can't get home from work, sort children out etc, and be at a theatre by 7:15pm! As for Art Galleries, I have never been in a local gallery, but would love to visit the Tate Modern to tut at the likes of Tracy Emin's unmade bed. I am sure there would be some genuinely talented artists' work that may inspire me!
Mark, UK

Arts such as singing in Italian and ballet have never been very popular with the masses in the UK

Alan, Scotland
Quite frankly, arts such as singing in Italian and ballet have never been very popular with the masses in the UK, although they have received a disproportionate amount of the arts grants. Perhaps if more were invested in arts that were relevant to our country's culture (eg folk music), then the arts might flourish. As for the modern art in galleries, the masses will always be able to tell talent from the rubbish. That's why they have voted with their feet. Cinemas - not a lot of interesting things happening there either, just repeats eg. Pearl Harbour, Planet of the Apes, Rollerball.
Alan, Scotland

It is getting so expensive to go to the theatre - whether it's opera, ballet or just the beating of the boards - that families cannot afford an evening out especially in London. Production costs are ever rising and this has to be passed on to the viewing public. There is also a feeling out there that these performing arts are for the elite, and this image needs to be put aside. It should be marketed as an experience, an occasion when you can dress up and enjoy a cultured evening out.

Television could play a part and broadcast more live performances. There is so much scope for this medium to encourage the theatregoers of all walks of life, why don't they? I do hope that we can all still enjoy and encourage further generations that there is a great deal out there to appreciate and grow from, and stop knocking the arts as some highbrow activity.
Madeleine Pugh, England

People are becoming more apathetic towards arts and culture. This is partly due to the advance of technology within the home entertainment market, which will undoubtedly mushroom within the next few years.
Gary Pritchard, Scotland

Art for the masses is the TV or a pop concert

Dave, Kent, UK
There are a number of reasons why the 'Arts' are in decline. The highest ranking of these is the snobbish elitism that surrounds it. This together with the exorbitant prices, not only of visiting many exhibitions or performances but also the value placed on so-called works of art, has made it uninteresting to the British public. As a member of that public and a painter of pictures myself, I find it thoroughly distasteful that dissected cows and works that a chimp or a three year old could better are hailed as some great new discovery. I feel that most modern artists have spent too long inhaling illegal substances rather than looking at what they are supposed to be creating. As for other so-called 'Arts', since when has it been anyone but the excessively rich could go to the opera or ballet? Art for the masses is the TV or a pop concert.
Dave, Kent, UK

It's hardly surprising that an appreciation of the arts and culture is on the decline - we have become an evermore materialistic society to the point where any item or concept that cannot be judged strictly in terms of monetary value and future financial gain tends to be regarded as worthless by an increasing proportion of the population. Greed is very much still good, I'm afraid, and inevitably limits any wider appreciation of those aspects that contribute towards a better quality of life for a majority.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

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See also:

25 Jul 01 | Arts
Arts audiences 'falling'
14 Mar 01 | Education
Museums 'bring history alive'
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