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Study: Canadians Spending Less Time on Arts and Culture

Canadians are spending less time engaged in the arts, culture and social leisure than they did before the recession, a recent study says.

And arts organizations—from galleries and museums to symphonies and dance troupes—need to take action, says the study’s lead researcher.

“We think we can draw a fairly straight line from between the impact of the recession in 2008 and people sacrificing what we regard as really valued activities during their free time, because of being less secure economically,” says Bryan Smale, director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing and professor at the University of Waterloo. “Following the recession, living standards dropped dramatically; there is a lot more precarious work, the quality of life has gone down, and the income gap has gone up.”

The upshot for arts and culture? A 9 per cent drop in the index’s Leisure and Culture domain compared to 1994—and household spending on recreation, culture and sport sitting at its lowest point in 21 years.

“These kinds of [economic factors] are placing a lot of pressure on households, and when people are concerned about those kinds of things, they start making choices,” says Smale. “The stuff they do in their free time gets sacrificed because they feel they have to attend to essentials.”

Ultimately, Smale and his team say this reduction in arts engagement doesn’t just hurt art institutions. It also hurts Canadians in general, because arts, culture and leisure are an essential part of wellbeing.

But here’s where arts organizations can take action: by improving access for all Canadians.

“We should certainly be looking at things that improve access for people” to the arts, Smale says. He points to free and low-fee classical music concerts in his home region of Kitchener-Waterloo as one example, particularly when those concerts take place in public spaces, parks or schools.

Doing more arts programs in public space “introduces that form to younger people; they may become lifelong devotees, and the important thing is that it contributes to quality of life” for decades to come, Smale says.

More free-admission options at museums and galleries are another thing Smale would like to see more of, as well as museums and galleries doing programming beyond their bricks-and-mortar walls.

We need to “take advantage and make more use of public spaces in our communities, because often those are spaces where people can engage in their communities…We tend not to think of our public spaces as being for [arts and culture]. But I think it would expose more people to art, and give artists an opportunity to share their work with others.”

To read the full study and its recommendations, visit the Canadian Index of Wellbeing website.

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Michael Turner says:

“We think we can draw a fairly straight line from between the impact of the recession in 2008 and people sacrificing what we regard as really valued activities during their free time”… in favour of buying an iPhone.

Alex G says:

Never a problem to fill up a 60 thousand arena twice a week for a hockey game with ticket prices $60to$320. Now try to fill up a one thousand seats theatre where tickets $25

SarahA says:

So many factors to consider – Yes, times are tight for families, but they are equally so for arts organizations, especially those with smaller budgets. Many are barely surviving as it is, and once again the onus is on them to “think creatively” to solve this problem. That’s all arts organizations do. We are stretching them so thin.

At the same time, print media is dissolving, journalists across Canada are losing their jobs, and arts journalism is often viewed as secondary to “real news”. The Arts are being made less and less available to public conversation and awareness, it is any wonder the public is losing interest? The Arts are increasingly perceived as insular fluff because we have such minimal critical representation of it that accessibly explores and contextualizes its importance and relevance.

The public isn’t responsible for this problem, and neither are arts organizations. There is a yawning, growing gap in how we communicate and represent the Arts within the public sphere. We need more investment into strategies around **talking about art** in public spaces, whether through print, online, or public forums. Perhaps Canadian Art and the few other publications that dominate conversations around our art should be strategizing reach, accessibility and arts education, rather than shuffling responsibility over to the already overloaded, understaffed arts organizations.

mormom-punk-mob-mom-gutterbutt-smutglut-artschooldropoutrut says:

SarahA your comment/understanding is remarkable, Thank you !
I am interested in reading more from you !

Peter Riddihough says:

Its useful to have Professor Bryan Smale and his team do their work at the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. The results add to a valuable discourse. They should stick to highlighting the issues however, not assuming they have solutions. Professor’s Smale’s suggestion that arts organisations (and therefore artists) should do more work for free suggests a profound ignorance of the very topic on which he speaks and some seriously dubious math skills. Arts + free admission = sustainability + future growth.

dora says:

only one factor to consider – most of the art promoted and pushed by public money is everything but uplifting and beautiful… and includes the aesthetic sens

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