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Department of Culture and Media minister Catherine Martin (right) with (left to right) Arts Council director Maureen Kennelly and DJ Handsome Paddy. Alamy Stock Photo

Arts Council research shows 'worrying level of decline' in young people attending cultural events

A German policy to give each young person a €200 pass for cultural events is being examined by the Arts Council.

THE DIRECTOR OF the Arts Council has expressed concern that young people are not attending plays, art exhibitions and other cultural performances as often as before the pandemic.

Maureen Kennelly said that although attendance across all age groups was lower in 2022 when compared to 2019, the largest decline was among the younger age group.

She described the drop in 16 to 24-year-olds attending Arts Council-supported events, from 64% in 2019 to 52% in 2022, as “a worrying level of decline”.

Their research also found that young people who are attending them are doing so less frequently.

The 16 to 24-year-old age group is also the least likely to have attended these events for the first time – a reverse trend of what would have been expected.

Kennelly said survey responses indicate this is because of the pandemic restrictions, where the habit of attending cultural events was not formed, and because of cost.

She said that the impact of a German policy is being examined whereby a €200 credit is given to people when they turn 18, which can be used to buy tickets for cultural events.

Speaking at an event on Tuesday, Kennelly warned there was a risk of “losing a generation of audiences” and participants.

She made the comments as she welcomed the announcement of €800,000 in Government funding to help cultural spaces to open later so they can hold events such as DJ nights, comedy stand-up events or dance performances.

Speaking to the PA news agency later in the week, she said the decline in younger people attending events such as plays, art exhibitions and stand-up gigs is something that needs action.

“I think it does need intervention. Obviously, we’re working very closely with the Department around the night-time economy, and we see that as a very strong potential avenue for growth for the younger age cohorts.

“We’re hoping that by attracting people to those night-time economy events, that then they’ll be able to explore their local art centre and think, ‘Oh I didn’t realise my local arts centre shows films’. So it would be kind of a gateway for them to see what is available in the community and what they might be able to explore in the future.”

The research, carried out on an annual basis on behalf of the Arts Council, found that 72% of people surveyed attended an arts event in 2022 – a decline in incidence of only 4% compared to 2019, though the decline in actual attendance is 28%.

“The main reason given for reduced arts attendance has been the loss of habit, but cost is also coming up as a barrier for people,” Kennelly said.

“So those are things that we’re obviously trying to address very urgently ourselves, working in concert with the art sector.

“Covid was such a disruptive influence in people’s lives, that teenagers weren’t attending their arts classes in the way that they would have normally. So you wouldn’t have that normal springboard into then attending events themselves as young adults.”

However, Kennelly said it was “encouraging” that Culture Night was attracting more and more young people: in 2021, 11% of attendees were aged under 35, rising to 17% in 2022.

“It shows that when it has a strong emphasis, obviously, on the free nature, on the open, inclusive aspect of artistic expression, and when you push it out in that way, people do respond.

“Something else that we’re looking at is in Brussels and Berlin, they’ve initiated free or discounted attendance at night-time or cultural events for those who have turned 18 years old.

“So, for example, in Berlin, as soon as you turn 18, you get a voucher, you get 200 euro credit to attend live cultural events. So we’re going to look at the evidence of what impact is this having in order to inform – are these sorts of things that we should be looking at in Ireland.

“I think it’s a good gesture, we’ll look very carefully and see has this worked.

“We’ll also be looking at targeting information and (an) awareness campaign on social media to look at how do we get the 16 to 24-year-olds group more engaged with their local artistic offering.”

The annual research was carried out on behalf of the Arts Council by Behaviour and Attitudes in October and November last year with at least 1,000 people.

The Arts Council is the State agency responsible for awarding funding to Irish artists in the interest of promoting the arts.

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