Title: Access to and Participation in the Arts: the Case of Those with Low Incomes/Educational Attainment

Author(s): John W. O’Hagan

Publisher: Department of Economics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Year: 1996

URL: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00149232

Topics: Equal access to the arts, unequal arts audiences for arts events by educational grouping, constraints/rationale for more equal attendance/audiences, public funding

Methods: Equal access is defined as equality of rights to participate in cultural life, or absence of discrimination against participation in the arts. Does not mean equal participation, more like equality of opportunity.

Ways to measure equality of right to participate in the arts is primarily participation rates (equality of outcome). Data sets:

  • Surveys of public participation in the arts for the US and the UK
  • 1994 survey of people in Ireland
  • Survey of disadvantaged people, including data from a qualitative study of people working with disadvantaged groups

Methodology is primarily analyzing summary statistics from four above-mentioned data sets.

What it says: Examines findings from each of the four data sets. Findings from the first data set include the attendance mean scores for arts participation in four categories: “hiart,” “pop,” “exper,” and “trad” as they correlate with participants’ education level (where maximum participation score is 9). Findings are that people tend to have high participation in “pop,” and that participation in “hiart” and “exper” varies significantly by education level, with low participation among people in the lower two education level categories.

For the survey of those living in deprived areas, those with lower incomes tend to have high participation in film in particular. Low participation rates for those with lower incomes at classical music events and at museums.

For the NEA 1992 arts survey, there is huge variation for different high arts participation across education levels, with those at the highest education level the most likely to have participated in a “high arts” performance. Survey also assesses whether respondents would like to participate in any type of arts engagement at a higher level, and finds that those with a high education level are more likely to indicate that they would prefer to be more frequent engagers than they are now.

Possible barriers for participation:

  • Monetary (admissions cost), which doesn’t totally explain low participation rates in at-home arts events
  • Physical or psychic barriers: arts orgs. might tend to market to centralized areas in larger cities/events may not be geared toward minority taste
  • Physical surroundings: location/type of production may be a hindrance
  • Preference structure among those with different education levels

Regarding whether the money is well-spent: benefits from arts participation may extend to those who do not participate directly in the arts, arts spending may impact arts producers more than consumers, high proportion of arts funding in the US goes to public broadcasting, wealthier people pay higher income taxes.

What I think about it: The evidence from this article seems sound for the time period in which it was written, but I wonder if the same funding patterns/issues are the most relevant for the policy debate today regarding arts funding. The conclusion presents some frameworks that may still be useful for thinking about arts funding and funding solutions in general. Analysis of the data sets might be a bit superficial, and it makes me wonder there is some useful, established framework for thinking about equitable arts funding.

What it all means: There is some debate on whether or not public funding for the arts is money well spent, particularly since participation in the arts is not evenly distributed across income and education levels. The idea of who benefits the most from arts funding is an interesting way to think about arts funding, and the data from the four data sets indicates that there is indeed a difference in how people participate in the arts across education and income levels.