Losing to the Digital Age?!

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A survey conducted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports showed that around 77% of adults in England have engaged with the Arts the 12 months prior to filling in the survey. A similar survey conducted by the same department focusing on film where 84% of adults engage with digital media (film and TV).

So what is happening within the arts? Why are people disengaging from the industry? Let’s just have a look a few more of the statics from the survey before unpacking some thoughts around this as many show a trend and changes within generations.

Young people (aged 16-24) are far more into the digital age then those who are 65 year plus. 78% of young people go to the movies and an unsurprising 92% enjoy watching TV. While only 69% of older people will go to the movies and 70% watch TV. Whilst when it comes to live arts, with the exemption of music the story is quite the reverse.

Live arts for this survey included everything from exhibitions to theatre and participating in some way or other in free time or voluntarily. There seemed to be a higher proportion of individuals who participate in creative arts rather than attending an arts presentation.

For the digital age there is a great thirst for getting on TV or in films, as this seems to be looked on as something that requires less skill then live arts. Being an extra in a film could mean just walking down a street, whilst being in a TV show could potentially win you thousands of pounds. The world of soap operas gives people the escape from the real world while being able to identify with the storylines of characters and dealing with social issues. Cinemas have performances at convenient times and repeat films over a month’s period or so and if you still miss it you can just pick up a DVD or download the movie online.

A recent article in The Stage said this down turn in the engagement of the arts is due to lack of interest, rising cost and accessibility for those with disabilities or long term illness. This maybe the case, but there has to be a reason for it surely? Yes digital technology is still new and exciting and is making head way on improving, but surely the live arts knew this would happen and would do the same to keep up with new competing market?

Well the first reason I am going to put is the lack of opportunities in the key years, school. As I keep on about the disappointment in the fact the arts have been dropped from EBacc in the UK. This mean that schools are justified to not put funding towards these subjects as it will not benefit them in the exam tables.

So with schools putting less funding toward the arts subject there are less trips out to theatres for children who may not otherwise get that opportunity and less ways for them to be creative during the key learning years. So if young people aren’t able to experience theatre and the arts then how else will interest be aroused?

Also there’s a lack of interest due to lack of encouragement to take the arts up as a career, I know this is about arts as a hobby, but if the group you are with or an individual you are associated with really wants to be in the arts but is not encouraged then that in itself will have a ripple effect. The reason there is a lack of encouragement in career towards the arts is because it is looked on a ‘not a proper’ job. So the negativity this message gives has a spiral effect for those engaging from a hobby side of it.

The lack of interest from disabled and those suffering from long term illnesses may be just that they are not aware of what theatres are doing to enhance the experience for them. How many people know that the Prince Edward theatre in London has autism friendly performances? Is it commonly known that theatres are now required to have things like induction loops for the hard of hearing or ensure they are wheelchair friendly? These facilities are just automatically assumed to known about as most were done through changes to the law.

Rising cost of entry fees is such a common theme and this is why funding has always been important to the arts as it was initiated to bring ticket costs down. The fact that the commercial side of the sector still has high prices making businesses and producer’s multi-millionaires is another story. But the reason they commercial theatre gets funded is the very reason ‘not for profit’ theatre requires grants and funding for organisations like Arts Council.

It won’t matter how much the program is adapted or much is invest in facilities interest won’t aroused until you get the people in past the threshold. When was the last time your theatre held some kind of open day? Where people can just come through the door, no tickets and have mooch round? See what facilities you have, see what programme and workshops you put on. It can even be an opportunity to allow them to suggest their own idea for programmes. If they have suggested it, it may just trigger their engagement.

But on the whole if theatre is under represented by funding and opportunity then how can it thrive and arouse engagement?

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