Arts events hold their appeal in recession: Ten million visit theatre as opera-going rises 19%

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ONE IN THREE adults attended a play, art gallery or concert in the past year, according to figures published yesterday. A total of 16.3 million people visited arts events in 1992-93, representing 36 per cent of the adult population, according to the Arts Council's annual report.

The theatre attracted 10 million visitors, art galleries 9 million and classical music concerts 5 million. Eight million people attended two or more events over the year.

The council said overall arts attendance figures had held steady during the recession, while so-called minority art forms, such as opera and ballet, had proved increasingly popular.

Opera is 19 per cent up on figures for five years ago, with 2.8 million people buying tickets for a production, while ballet recorded a 5 per cent increase over the same period to 2.7 million.

Over the past year, English National Ballet increased its box office income by almost 20 per cent and had 30,000 extra people in its audience, while the Royal Ballet attracted almost 90 per cent attendances at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

But Lord Palumbo, chairman of the Arts Council, who steps down after a five-year term in March, warned: 'This is not the time to penny-pinch when the arts have been so abundantly successful.'

He said arts funding was threatened after rising over the past five years. He accused the Treasury of ignoring 'the crucial fact that artistic talent is a resource so precious that it is not easily subject to regulation by parsimony'.

Anthony Everitt, the secretary-general, said the council's primary task was to persuade the Government to change its mind on cutting funding because the subsidised arts were 'one of Britain's glories'.

Highlights of 1992-93 included: Arts 2000 launched in Birmingham, the UK City of Music, when 3,000 events were attended by more than a million people; Arts Council-funded films on television attracted audiences of 17.4 million; the top eight grant-aided opera companies played to more than 1.1 million people on tour.