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NewsFlash – Ontario Arts Engagement Study

Ontario Arts Engagement Study Points to Opportunities for Arts Organizations to Build Audiences

Toronto, October 13, 2011 – The Ontario Arts Council (OAC) has released the findings of its commissioned report, the Ontario Arts Engagement Study, by research firm WolfBrown. These findings reveal significant implications for arts organizations seeking to build audience development and engagement.

The study looks at the full spectrum of arts activities from traditional audience-based activities (such as attending performing arts events or visiting an art gallery) to personal practice activities (such as playing a musical instrument, painting, or taking dance lessons) and includes arts participation via electronic, print and digital media (such as radio, television or the Internet).
It also explores the importance of these arts activities to Ontarians, the settings in which arts activities take place, the relationships between personal arts practice and attendance, and the patterns of engagement across regions and demographic groups such as age and gender.
“This study demonstrates the connections across different types of arts activities and identifies the various ways that Ontarians participate in the arts,” said John Brotman OAC Executive Director. “It challenges the arts community to explore this full spectrum of engagement when looking to increase participation.”
“This research builds our understanding of how arts organizations fit within the broader arts sphere where Ontarians attend, participate, create and learn about the arts,” said Alan Brown, principal researcher with WolfBrown.  “It suggests some exciting opportunities for arts organizations to further develop and deepen their relationships with audiences and visitors in innovative ways.”


Click here to access the Summary and the full WolfBrown report.

Arts Engagement Shows a Surprising Complexity:

  • Media-based arts engagement plays a pivotal role in the overall landscape of arts engagement –  90 per cent of Ontarians listen to music on a local radio station, and 88 per cent of Ontarians read paperback or hardcover books for enjoyment; 75 per cent of Ontarians of age 18 to 34 download music at least once a year or more.
  •  Ontarians place a high value on live arts experiences  –  While media-based participation is more widespread, Ontarians attach a relatively higher level of importance to attending live events such as visiting art museums and attending plays.  For example, among Ontarians who reported visiting an art museum or art gallery at least once in the past year, 80 per cent described this activity as being very important to them.
  • Many Ontarians actively participate in the arts – expressing themselves through artistic creation and interpretation in a variety of personal activities - 43 per cent of Ontarians dance socially at least one a year, over a third (36 per cent) take photographs with artistic intentions, one quarter paint, draw or make other original art, 24 per cent engage in textile crafts, 24 per cent make other crafts like pottery, jewelry or work with wood, glass or metal, 22 per cent of Ontarians play a musical instrument, 17 per cent write fiction, short stories or poetry, and 14 per cent make original videos or films. 
  • Involvement in participatory activities is linked to attendance at audience-based activities  –  Overall, people who engage in participatory arts activities are more likely to attend audience or visitor-based activities – sometimes at a rate of two or three times higher than those who do not engage in participatory activities. For example, Ontarians who play a musical instrument attend concerts by professional musicians more frequently than those who don’t play an instrument. 
  • The home is the main setting for arts participation -   The home is the predominant setting for Ontarians engaging in music, dance and visual arts/crafts/film.  While traditional arts venues (like theatre or concert facilities and museums/galleries) remain common settings, much arts participation takes place in informal settings like parks and outdoor spaces, bars/nightclubs, community centres and places of worship.

Patterns of Engagement Often Differ Across Regions and Demographic Groups:

  • Arts engagement is generally higher for Ontarians of colour – driven primarily by overall higher levels of engagement in community-based arts activities and arts learning activities, especially arts learning and skills development activities (such as taking lessons or classes).  However, it’s important to note that patterns of participation differ across specific racial/cultural groups. 
  •  Urban area residents (in particular those living in the City of Toronto) are generally more engaged.  However, the differences between urban and rural engagement are largely within the audience-based activities such as attending live performing arts and visiting art galleries.  Engagement in inventive and interpretive activities, community-based arts events, and media-based participation is relatively equivalent between urban and rural Ontarians.
  •  Online participation is a central aspect of the arts participation of younger adults.  For example, 75 per cent of Ontarians age 18 to 34 download music at least once a year or more.  In addition, Ontarians ages 18 to 34 are twice as likely to be engaged in personal practice activities, such as playing a musical instrument, as those over 65. 

Additional Details

  • Arts engagement is multi-faceted and widespread – virtually all Ontarians take part in arts activities of some sort  – 98  per cent of Ontarians engage at least once a year in music activities;  98 per cent engage in visual arts, crafts or film activities; and 64 per cent of Ontarians participate at least once a year in theatre activities.
  •  A majority of Ontarians attend professional audience-based activities at least once a year or more  –  60 per cent of Ontarians attend professional music concerts at least once a year; 55 per cent attend professional stage plays or musicals; and 51 per cent visit art museums or art galleries.
  •  Interest in cultural heritage correlates strongly with higher levels of engagement -- Ontarians who are interested in their own cultural heritage, or learning more about the cultural heritage of others, have much higher levels of engagement in the arts.
  •  Room to grow – The results suggest that opportunities exist for increasing the engagement among those who are interested but participate infrequently in the arts.  In most types of activities, approximately 20 per cent of Ontarians account for about half of the engagement.

Things To Think About


The report raises questions and implications for arts organizations seeking to enhance their relationships with audiences:

  • Given the pivotal role of electronic, print and digital media in the landscape of arts engagement, how might arts organizations reach more deeply into the population through these media?
  • How will online activities, such as downloading music, change the way we deliver our artistic product?
  • How can arts organizations move forward and meet audiences, especially the younger ones, where they are and where they want to be?
  • The question of “where” arts participation happens, and how much emphasis should be given to informal versus formal settings is an essential conversation for arts organizations when considering programming and audience development.
  • How can arts organizations build bridges between participatory forms of engagement and professional arts performances and exhibits?
  • Results suggest that concentrating on participatory activities and community-based arts events may prove an effective strategy of increasing engagement in areas or regions where there is a lack of infrastructure.
  • Increasing arts participation within some cultural communities will require an emphasis on participatory and arts learning activities.
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If you have questions, please contact Kathryn Townshend, Director of Research, Policy and Evaluation, at ktownshend@arts.on.ca or at 416-969-7456 / 1-800-387-0058 ext. 7456 (toll-free in Ontario).
The Ontario Arts Engagement Study was commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council and led by Alan Brown of WolfBrown, based on his previous work in California and Philadelphia.  Data collection was undertaken by Ipsos Reid in May and June of 2011 through a random digit dialing of Ontario residents 18 years or older.  The total sample included a general population sample of 1,300 and booster sample of certain sub-populations of interest.  Weighting was applied to create a representative sample of Ontarians.   Results for the overall main sample are accurate within +/- 2.7 per cent at a 95 per cent confidence level.  Intervals are larger for smaller sub-samples.