New Australia Council research shows that art is relied upon by millions of Australians

Image: TOY by All the Queens Men. Photo by Ben Vos Productions, courtesy of Australia Council for the Arts.

Arts and culture are central to all of our lives and play a crucial role in driving a successful economic crisis recovery. New research from the Australia Council for the Arts shows a deepening appreciation of the value of arts and creativity in almost every aspect of our lives, from education and mental health, to strengthening tourism and local economies. 

Released today, Creating Our Future: results of the National Arts Participation Survey is the fourth and last report in a decade-long series that examines Australians’ engagement with, and attitudes towards the arts. The online survey was conducted in late 2019, not long before Australia’s cultural life was significantly impacted by the bushfires and COVID-19. The last report was tabled in 2016.

The findings come at an important time for a sector desperate for a full recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19. Not to mention in the wake of ABC funding cuts, skyrocketing costs of humanities university education, and the ongoing efficiency dividend impacts on our national cultural institutions – to name just a fraction of the devastating blows to the arts. 

The commitments made to date by the Australian Government of a $250m rescue package for the arts is a welcome start alongside JobKeeper. However, the package addresses only some of the art forms within the industry and is focused on the creation and touring of new work, rather than supporting artists and the industry to recover and thrive through the crisis. 

The Australia Council report provides important insights into Australia’s engagement with the arts prior to the pandemic – with almost every Australian (98% of us) engaging in the arts in some way – and makes a strong case for an ambitious national vision that invests in arts and culture comprehensively, with 63% of Australians believing that arts and culture should be financially supported.

This responds to consistent calls from NAVA and the sector to invest in creative education, arts tourism, the creative industry across all artforms and scales, and creative workers no matter where or how they are employed.

For further analysis of COVID-19 and policy priorities, see NAVA’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Australian Government’s COVID19 Response.

Australia Council Key Findings

  • 84% of Australians recognise the impacts of arts and creativity, and there is growing recognition of the value of the arts across a range of areas including: 
    • child development (63%, up 13 percentage points) 
    • our sense of wellbeing and happiness (56%, up 11 percentage points) 
    • dealing with stress, anxiety or depression (56%, up 11 percentage points) 
    • understanding other people and cultures (60%, up eight percentage points)  
    • bringing customers to local businesses (41%, up nine percentage points)  
  • One in two Australians believe the arts build creative skills that will be necessary for the future workforce (47%, new in 2019). 
  • Nearly every Australian – 98% of us – engage in the arts in some way. 
  • Prior to COVID-19, live attendance at arts events was thriving. More than two in three Australians attended the arts in person in 2019 (68%), up nearly ten percentage points since 2016. 
  • More than one in three Australians connect with, and share, their cultural background through arts and creativity (36%), including by attending arts events (31%). 
  • A growing majority of Australians (75%) feel that First Nations arts are an important part of Australia’s culture, and both attendance (32%) and interest (40%) are increasing. However only half feel that First Nations arts are well represented.
    • Concerns that programming could be safer and more conservative in future due to the financial impacts of COVID-19 highlight a need to ensure First Nations arts do not lose hard-won visibility, and that the availability of First Nations arts for Australian audiences is not reduced. 
  • Young people (15-24) are highly engaged, more likely than other age groups to recognise the impacts of the arts and creativity, and more willing to give time and money to the arts.  
  • Support for public funding for the arts is strong and growing (63%, up 12 percentage points) and Australians have clear priorities for investment, including ensuring access to the arts and creative experiences for young people to support learning and development.