Arts-goers are mainly old and rich

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The Independent Online
DECADES of attempts by politicians and arts leaders to broaden access to the arts appear to have failed, according to a national survey of audiences to be published tomorrow.

The survey, the biggest of its kind undertaken, will show that the typical theatre, concert and museum-goer is a relatively high earner and middle-aged.

More than 8,000 people at 87 major UK venues were questioned in the survey by the Association for Business Sponsorshop of the Arts, and the Clerical Medical Investment Group.

More than one-third of the average audience was management level and above, with only 8 per cent in clerical, administrative and manual jobs. Twenty-eight per cent of the audience had a household income of more than pounds 30,000.

It is also hard to discern much success from the marketing campaigns aimed at young people. Fewer than 10 per cent of arts- goers are between 18 and 24, and only 3 per cent are under 18.

The new research is sure to play a part in the Arts Council's review of the companies it funds, details of which will be announced in the autumn. There is sure to be pressure to take a sterner look at venues using public money to play to fairly well- heeled audiences.

Paul Blackman, head of the BAC arts centre and theatre complex at Battersea, south London, which runs a weekly 'pay what you can' evening to attract less well-off and younger audiences, accused other venues of keeping their prices too high.

'There has to be a re-think,' he said. 'Why can't theatres and concert halls have cheap Monday nights as cinemas do, and take on TV? It should be so cheap on a Monday that the whole country is out. What is particularly outrageous is that most places put up prices at weekends - the one time less well-off people go out.

'But price isn't the only issue. Venues are still intimidating. If you go to the Almeida Theatre (Islington, north London) and you are not one of the chattering classes, it's pretty daunting.'

David Brierley, general manager of the Royal Shakespeare Company, commented: 'There is a danger of seat prices becoming prohibitively high. We are aware of this and keep a third of the auditorium at Stratford priced at pounds 7 and below.'

Nicholas Snowman, director of the South Bank Centre in London, agreed there was still a long way to go in widening the audience. He said: 'Listening to a classical orchestra in full flow in a concert hall can be a tremendously moving experience. Our job is to communicate that.'

Ironically, the middle-class complexion of the audience revealed by the survey looks like gaining more money for the arts in the short term. Richard Orgill, corporate communications manager of Clerical Medical, said it would encourage firms to sponsor the arts and thereby promote their goods and services.

He added: 'We wouldn't have expected such an upmarket audience. Manual, administrative and clerical, housewives and the unemployed represent up to 60 per cent of the population, but they are only 20 per cent of people attending. The arts are still a middle- and upper-middle-class activity, with the audience from the top quarter of the population as far as income goes.'

However, the survey did sound one warning note concerning business sponsorship of the arts: although a third of arts-goers said such sponsorship would make them more likely to buy products or services, a quarter said they resented business sponsors snaffling the best seats.

(Graphic omitted)

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