Wednesday, November 02, 2011

how engaged are we, exactly?

I've mentioned a couple of times now the Ontario Arts Council's recently released report on arts engagement in Ontario. It is a statistical analysis by the research firm WolfBrown, based on a commissioned Ipsos Reid survey of 1,594 Ontarians (interviewed by telephone) of just how, how much, and how frequently we engage with the cultural arts in the course of our lives.

The study also records our own ranking of the importance of this engagement to us - a measure the survey report calls salience. As a new lens for observing the cultural sector in which I've been working for my entire professional life, I find this report endlessly fascinating and encouraging.

Most gratifying, of course, is the key finding, which shows "the multifaceted and pervasive nature of arts engagement throughout Ontario." With engagement percentages at 99% and 98% for some activities, it's clear that the professional arts are woven into this province's* cultural DNA.

Less clear is what we as professional artists and arts presenters can do with the information this report presents to us. For instance, another of the key findings has to do with location of arts engagement, and it shows rather convincingly that Ontarians do most of their engaging with the arts in their own homes. What does this finding mean for those arts presentations that traditionally require people to leave their homes, art forms like theatre and dance. Do we fight Ontario's nesting tendency around the arts, or do we embrace it and try to work with it?

The report also raises interesting questions about the relationships between professional and amateur arts practices, and the effect of "popular culture" presentation on what might be considered the more "traditional" arts. What exactly does the soaring popularity of television shows like So You Think You Can Dance, Canada mean for professional  dance artists and presenters?

We at the Ontario Arts Council have been talking about this report with our artistic communities since its release, and we'll likely be talking about it for years to come. I welcome personal observations here as well. The full report is at this link, and a summary is here. As well, you can watch the full (almost two-hour long) presentation of the findings by Alan Brown (partner at WolfBrown), just by clicking play on the embedded video above.

Tell me what you think. If you're not a cultural worker, what does this study tell you about your own engagement with culture? If you are a cultural worker, what does it suggest to you about your practice and your audience?

As always... genuine, respectful, insightful comments and questions from real people are welcome.

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*For non-Ontarian readers of this blog, some context - Ontario is Canada's most populous province and second-largest geographically (I travel throughout Ontario regularly - it's huge!). According to recent government analysis, "Ontario’s population is projected to experience healthy growth over the next 26 years, rising 34.4 per cent, or over 4.5 million, from an estimated 13.2 million on July 1, 2010 to 17.7 million by July 1, 2036." Watch the fabulous Molly Johnson sing Ontario's praises here.

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