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Kathy Keele Launches Arts Participation Research

Speeches and Opinions
Mar 05, 2010

Kathy Keele, CEO of the Australia Council, launches More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts. The research is most comprehensive research the Australia Council has ever undertaken into the attitudes of Australians to the arts and their patterns of participation in the arts.

I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional owners of this land, and their elders, past and present.  Some of the good news today is that most Australians are showing a keen interest in Indigenous arts, which bodes well for our long process of reconciliation.

Most of you have just been well-briefed by Nick and Bridget, so let me make just a few points on the implications of this work.

This is the most comprehensive research the Australia Council has ever undertaken into the attitudes of Australians to the arts and their patterns of participation in the arts.   This research gives us a fascinating comparison and update to the similar landmark research done 10 years ago by Saatchi and Saatchi with the Australia Council.  And it’s a benchmark today, which can be repeated in years to come.

This research is crucial to you…to artists, managers and marketeers who work in the arts sector, and who are continually seeking to renew and extend audiences.

We’ve tailored this study to your needs. It’s practical research; designed for your desktops, and not for our shelves!

Research like this is also vital to all those designing arts policy and to us here at Council developing strategic priorities.

Take, for example, what the research says about key areas like youth, Indigenous arts and Community arts.  These areas are fundamental to our Minister’s emerging cultural policy. While the picture looks good, there are challenges and opportunities.

Of the three quarters of people who had attended some sort of visual or performing arts event last year, nearly a quarter of them had been to events created or performed by an Indigenous artist. And nearly two thirds of Australians surveyed say they have a growing or strong interest in Indigenous art; this points to new markets, new opportunities.

Then there’s the 15-24 year old generation. Last year they had a higher rate of cultural participation than any other generation. And more than half of them used the internet in some form of art-making.

This points, generationally, to even better participation rates in the future. But it’s also vital information for us developing Council’s strategic priority of building arts content for digital mediums. We’re keen to support artists and organisations to realise these new digital opportunities.  Now we have a snapshot of one key audience and how they use the internet.

Community arts are a key element in promoting an embedded understanding of the role of the arts in our lives, and in making us feel ‘part of a community’.  But this research also tells us that we need to ensure that more of our regional communities are able to experience the arts through both access and creative participation.  National touring is important and should be increased, but the internet is also a developing opportunity.

Another strategic priority of Council’s is to build support for the arts. And that’s an impossible task without this sort of attitudinal research into what our nation’s thinking.

The Minister, Peter Garrett  and all of us here should be encouraged to know that, now, the majority of Australians agree with him …about the individual, social and community benefits of the arts.

We all need to know this if we are to be better advocates for the arts, and if we are to build government, philanthropic and community support for their advancement.


That’s why our research team will be soon travelling throughout Australia to brief arts workers about these results.

But there is one particular benefit of the arts which I want to pick up on.  The research finds that a majority of people believe that the arts should be an important part of the education of every Australian.

This too is good news, for all those who support the Government’s recent inclusion of the arts in the development of a national curriculum, and the recognition now of the real benefits of an arts rich education for our students.   Research shows an arts-rich education has significant potential to improve student engagement and attendance, and importantly to stimulate their capacity to think creatively – no matter what the subject.

This initiative from the Government’s – along with current programs we are running at Council which puts artists in schools across the country – will have far reaching benefits for the arts sector.   As the arts take their proper place in education, so they will gradually take a fuller place throughout our whole life span.  And today we know that most Australians see the worth of that exposure, and the benefit of creative participation.

So this research is a very useful starting point.  And it’s only the beginning.

This work all goes online on our Research Hub the full report, an executive summary and a growing number of facts sheets and think pieces on different issues, and the implications for different art forms.

This Australia Council Research Hub fulfils yet another Council strategic priority ….to create an arts knowledge centre.  Its purpose is to disseminate our own authoritative and practical research …but also other work from our colleagues in the sector and in institutes across the county.  And it’s a place on the Australia Council website where you can interact and comment.

Coming up, next month, is a major analysis of employment data in the arts in Australia.   This will be followed by an examination of the relationship between the arts and creative industries.

And, Professor David Throsby is updating his influential 2001 study, Don’t Give up Your Day Job. It will be the fifth economic study into practising professional artists in Australia.

So watch this space.

Many thanks to all those in Council’s research and communication teams, who have delivered this great work today, and to all of you for joining us.

It’s a pleasure to be the bearer of such good news!