Looking at Cultural Participation Monitor data to see who is more negatively impacted and how that relates to, or exacerbates, previously existing and ongoing inequalities in audiences.

COVID has been, to quote the title of the Centre for Cultural Value event in this topic, ‘The Great Unequalizer’. In the first summary report from the Cultural Participation Monitor we emphasised that it has impacted everyone: mostly negatively, but differently. Here, however, we focus specifically in on inequality in its impacts.

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This report lays out evidence to support the following four-part argument:

  1. Cultural engagement was unequal before COVID,
  2. The impacts of the pandemic have been experienced unequally, reinforcing this existing inequality,
  3. Further inequalities have developed in terms of health impacts and vaccination,
  4. And the result it likely to be increases in inequality in cultural engagement into the future.

Some of these findings are unsurprising; others benefit from additional nuance. We provide the latter where we can, but also recommend further exploration via the Taking Part and Active Lives Surveys, with their larger samples and different questions.

Since the impacts of COVID and inequality are only two of many topics that we have been interested in when designing the survey, we only asked about particular aspects of them. For example, we have not (at this stage) asked about details of health, well-being or bereavement. Similarly, we have asked about occupational status and role types, but not potentially more sensitive questions about furlough, redundancy or class. As a result, we look at the impact of COVID mostly in terms of people’s amount of free time and money. We also differentiate groups by occupation type and other demographic characteristics (such as age, ethnicity, disability), as well as Audience Spectrum (a population classification based on how people tend to engage in cultural activities).

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There is, of course, more to say on these topics. But our overall message here is simple:

  • Cultural engagement was already unequal,
  • COVID has affected (and is likely to continue to affect) people unequally,
  • Therefore, all else being equal, is likely to increase that pre-existing inequality.

That ‘all else being equal’ is key. There are a wide range of ambitions for this greater inclusivity bubbling up throughout the sector and a clear appetite for change. This is good, and necessary.

The category of ‘publicly-funded cultural organisations’ is itself broader as a result of Cultural Recovery Funding, furlough and other support during the pandemic. But if we don’t benefit the public more broadly and equally than before, we will ourselves be further increasing inequality. To engage a broad and representative spectrum of the population will take substantial change, but there is both the appetite and opportunity. If successful, we will have a more positive reason to say that ‘we’re all in it together’.

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This report is part of a national research programme led by the Centre for Cultural Value in collaboration with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre and The Audience Agency.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through UK Research and Innovation’s COVID-19 rapid rolling call.