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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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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...
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?
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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".
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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