Findings from the Spring 2023 wave of our Cultural Participation Monitor look at the compounding pressures facing organisations right now, as arts and culture audiences' already slow return post-pandemic is stalled by cost-of-living concerns.

March 2023

Key Points

  1. 1/3 still report attending arts and culture less than pre-pandemic, though under 35-year-olds are returning more than others, and are more likely to identify as the 'initiators' of social cultural activity with friends and family.
  2. Panto season pre-sales stand out as being back on track, though this goes against an overall trend towards later booking, with over 40% saying that they now tend to book more last minute than they used to.
  3. More than half of people now consider the risk of day-to-day Covid infection to be minimal, though c. 1/4 still say that concerns about transmission put them off attending arts and culture - albeit far less so than the cost-of-living.
  4. Over 60% say that the cost-of-living is already slashing their ability to attend culture events (more than twice than because of Covid concerns), with even higher numbers expecting this to still be the case in 6-24 months' time.
  5. Half of those who previously did so intend to donate less over the next couple of years, but most who have cancelled memberships do intend to restart them, and c.80% of lapsed volunteers expect to return to their activities.
  6. More than 1/3 people say they follow an 'arts and culture' organisation on social media, though report being more inclined to do so out of interest in the broad topic or artform, than in that specific organisation and its events.

Presentation | Our Head of Evidence Talks Through the Findings

1. Engagement and Booking Behaviours

Changes to Attendance

Over 90% of under 35-year-olds have attended an arts and culture event in that past 12 months (compared with <70% over 75s, for example) though, overall, 1/3 of people have attended less than they did before the pandemic.

  • Respondents reported that overall, they are attending arts and culture less than before the pandemic (37% said that they were attending less, but only 12% more); similar to when comparing to 12 months ago (31% and 12%).
  • There are big differences in attendance by age: over 90% have attended any arts and culture in the past 12 months among under 35s, less than 80% over 55s (under 70% for over 75s).

Attendance pre-vs-post pandemic x Age.png

Initiators and Responders

When it comes to organising trips to cultural events with family and friends, roughly 1/3 self-identify as 'initiators' (i.e they spearhead the effort) - most commonly Gen-Y, more highly educated, urbanites, often with young families.

When thinking about marketing, it’s important to understand not just who is potentially interested in attending events (or indeed who might attend events, whether or not they’re interested!), but how those visits come to be organised. The people you need to reach are those who those who are most likely to decide to attend and persuade others to do so too (rather than those who’ll go along if asked). To explore this, we replicated questions asked by Alan Brown in research for the Knight Foundation in the US back in 2004:

Initiators strongly agree that:

I’m the kind of person who likes to organize outings to cultural events for my friends

Responders strongly agree that:

I’m much more likely to attend cultural outings if someone else invites me

  • We found that 8% of people were Initiators and 13% were Responders (32% and 63% if we loosen the definition to ‘agree’ as well as ‘strongly agree’).
  • Initiators were most commonly found in Audience Spectrum groups characterised by urban lifestyles and broad artistic interests - particularly Metroculturals and Experience Seekers.

Initiators vs Responders x AS group.png

  • Initiators were more likely to be younger (but over 25), and have a family with younger children, higher educational qualifications, and be urban-based.

Initiators vs Responders x Demographics.png

  • Initiators were more likely to have been to more arts/heritage events in-person across the board, but in particular to have attended ‘events connected with books and reading’, ‘dance events’ and/or ‘classical music performance/events’ in the last 12 months.
  • Initiators were more likely to hold a membership (67% cf. 49% responders), do volunteering (45% cf. 24%), or have donated to an arts or heritage organisation in the last 12 months (70% cf. 53%).

Panto Season Pre-Booking

Bookings for pantos and Christmas shows have returned to pre-pandemic levels, led by 25-44 year-olds, particularly those with young children, with pre-booking dominated by groups least affected by cost-of-living concerns.

  • Bookings to pantos and Christmas shows seem to be back to pre-Covid levels. We have seen this in our (forthcoming) ‘Change Analysis’ of booking data, but also in these survey responses.
  • 28% of respondents said that they had attended a panto or Christmas show at a theatre in the last panto season.
  • This was, of course, higher for 25-34s and 35-44s (35% and 37%) and those with children (48%), particularly where the oldest children were under 5 (52%) or 6-10 (51%). It isn’t an exact comparison, but in October 2021, 13% said that they had booked a panto or Christmas show for the forthcoming panto season.

Panto Pre-Booking by Family Age.png

  • Attending panto was very much something done by families who were feeling better off (72%, cf. 48% for worse off [NB small samples]), with families’ financial situation much more indicative than perceived Covid risk, for example.
  • We can also see from the Change Analysis that the profile of panto bookers has continued to change, with more Dormitory Dependables and Trips & Treats and fewer highly engaged groups and Home & Heritage.
  • This continues a pre-Covid trend, with panto attendance being more concentrated among particular sections of the population (which appears to be middle-engaged, financially-secure, nuclear families).

Late Booking Trends

40% now tend to book for arts and culture events more last-minute than they did pre-pandemic, regardless of financial situation, representing a major shift in purchasing patterns, especially in younger (pre-retirement age) audiences.

  • Venues have reported higher levels of late booking since the pandemic, and this is confirmed by respondents. 9% ‘strongly agree’ that ‘I tend to book more last minute than I used to before the pandemic’ and a further 32% ‘agree’.
  • With 1/4 reporting booking later, this reflects a major shift in behaviour.
  • Interestingly, this was true of both those who felt better off than before and those who felt worse off than before, suggesting that there may be different types of motivations driving the same pattern of behaviour (e.g. some feeling better able to spontaneously ‘treat’ themselves, with others more likely to ‘hold off’ from purchasing).

Booking last minute x AS group.png

  • Late booking, of course, tends to be a self-reinforcing pattern; If events aren’t expected to sell out early, there is less incentive to book early, which therefore makes them less likely to sell out early.
  • Those over 65 were less likely to report later booking.

2. Reasons for Not Attending: Covid/Cost of Living

Relative Impact of Covid and the Cost of Living

Over 60% say that the cost-of-living is already putting them off attending culture events (compared with less than 1/4 because of Covid concerns), with even higher numbers expecting this to still be the case in 6-24 months' time.

Covid reluctance vs Cost-of-living reluctance.png

  • The cost-of-living crisis is a much greater driver of changes to engagement behaviour than Covid at this stage.
  • Only 24% say they agree/strongly agree that Covid puts them off attending cultural events; at 61% it's more than twice that for the cost of living.
  • Focusing just on those who are attending less than 12 months ago (31% of the population), 36% said it was due to Covid, 79% due to the cost of living.
Put off attending cultural events.png Concerns about impact on my life.png
  • The perceived long-term impact is lower for Covid than cost-of-living as well, with 33% thinking it was very or quite likely that Covid would impact their behaviour in 6 months and 20% in two years, compared to 77% and 58% respectively for the cost of living.
  • Similarly, the cost of living is also far more important as a driver of reductions in membership and volunteering than Covid.

Attitudes to Covid

Over half of respondents now consider the risk of day-to-day Covid infection to be minimal, though 1/4 still say that concerns about transmission put them off attending cultural events - albeit far less so than the cost-of-living (c.60%)

  • Covid has receded as a perceived risk, with a majority (51%) now saying that the risk of contracting or passing on Covid in day to day situations is ‘low’ or ‘very low’.

Perceived covid risk decreasing over time.png

  • Nonetheless, it remains a key factor for between a fifth and a quarter of people across a range of measures (e.g. ‘I wear a mask at indoor events, 22%; ‘I am nervous about using public transport because of Covid’, 27%). 24% say that the risk of Covid is putting them off attending cultural events (cf, 61% for the cost of living).
  • Conversely, around a third agreed or strongly agreed that ‘in the UK at least, the pandemic is effectively over’ (34%).

Attitudes to the Cost-of-Living

1/2 of respondents are feeling financially worse off than last year, which is starkly mirrored in the 50% of respondents who say they are now attending fewer arts and culture events, mostly citing money as the primary reason.

  • People are feeling worse off than before the pandemic (47% feeling worse off cf. 12% better off) and compared to last year (48% and 12%).
  • This is clearly linked to attendance: those who are feeling better off than 12 months ago are as likely to say they are attending more as attending less (25% for each).

Attendance x Income.png

  • For those who feel worse off, there is a 42% difference (8% attending more, 50% attending less).
  • 56% of those attending less said that it was because of money, much more than any other reason.

3. Support for Organisations

Donations vs Memberships vs Volunteering x Artform.png


Although 40% of people who held cultural memberships pre-pandemic have since cancelled them (especially true of younger and lower engaged groups) , a majority of those (c.60%) intend to restart them in the next couple of years.

45% of people said they had memberships with cultural, heritage and nature organisations pre-pandemic; of these:

  • around 1 in 7 (13%) had cancelled all of their memberships since Covid,
  • 1 in 4 (27%) had cancelled some but not all
  • and 6 in 10 (60%) hadn’t cancelled any (this was even higher, at 70%, for heritage memberships, a category including National Trust and English Heritage).
Memberships Ven Diagram.png

Membership Cancellation Reasons.png

  • At 43% and 39% respectively, reasons for having cancelled memberships over the past 12 months were pretty evenly spread between Covid and cost-of-living.
  • The proportion who had stopped a membership was higher for younger and typically lower-engaged groups.

Most of those who have stopped memberships expect to restart in the next couple of years:

  • 63% probably/definitely restart of those who've stopped heritage memberships;
  • 62% of those who'd stopped nature memberships;
  • 56% memberships to other visitor attractions.

Membership renewal intentions x Org type.png


While volunteering at cultural sites has declined slightly since the height of the pandemic (15% of the population), c.80% of those who have fallen off expect to return, particularly older people and those with young children.

  • 4 in 7 (40%) have not stopped volunteering at all since Covid,
  • Nearly 1/2 (47%) had stopped volunteering, but have now stared again
  • and only about 1 in 10 (14%) have stopped and don't plan to restart.
  • At 39% and 28% respectively, reasons for having stopped volunteering over the past 12 months were comparable between Covid and cost-of-living.
Volunteering Ven Diagram.png Volunteering Stopping Reasons.png

  • Crucially, the vast majority (80%) of those who volunteered previously but haven't yet take it up again do still expect to return (86% probably/definitely for heritage, 77% for nature etc).

Volunteering resumption intentions x Org type.png

  • There is some indication (despite small samples) that older people, along with those with children, are those most likely to continue volunteering.


Half of people expect to donate less to cultural organisations over the coming year - especially younger, family, and lower income respondents - even amongst groups who expect their financial situation to improve.

  • People are expecting to donate less: with 50% of those who have donated to cultural organisations saying that they expect to donate less in the next 12 months (and only 17% not expecting to reduce donations).

Intention to donate x AS group.png

  • This is particularly the case for younger (U45s) and lower income groups, and those with children (even families who feel that they have got better off in the last 12 months).
  • There’s a potential challenge for organisations if there is greater differentiation between the profile of donors and attenders, due to a greater dependence for donations on groups which have been engaging less, both in person and online, since the pandemic.

4. Social Media Behaviour

More than 1/3 people say they follow an 'arts and culture' organisation on social media, though report being more inclined to do so out of interest in the broad topic or artform, than in that specific organisation and its events.


  • Just over a third of people (37%) said they follow an arts or cultural organisation on social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, etc.)
  • Although it is worth noting that people are likely to a) over-report and b) use a relatively broad definition of ‘arts and culture’.
  • These respondents were, unsurprisingly, more likely to be female, urban (esp. London), under 45 (inc. 67% of 20-24s) and with children under 10.

Likelihood to follow cultural orgs on social media x Demographics.png


Notivations for following cultural orgs on social media x AS group.png

We offered a range of reasons that people might follow these accounts, of which the most popular responses were:

  • ‘general interest in the topic’ (60%)
  • and ‘entertainment’ (57%)

Breaking down people's other reasons for following, we found that:

  • These general topic interests were notably higher than ‘interest in the specific organisation/its work’ (45%), a useful reminder that people’s interest is first and foremost in the topic or art form, rather than in individual organisations, and content should be focused accordingly.
  • Information about events (whether in person or online) were selected by a similar proportion (41% and 40%),
  • but many fewer were looking for more specific information (‘opening times, directions etc’) (25%) or ‘to find things to buy (19%).
  • Following was motivated though by a desire to show support for an organisation in many cases (38%).

When asked for their ‘main’ reason, the picture was even clearer:

Main vs All Motivations for following cultural orgs on social media.png

  • Almost a third said ‘general interest in the topic’ (32%),
  • a fifth ‘entertainment’ (20%),
  • and similar for ‘information about events to attend in person’ (19%).
  • No other option was selected by more than one in ten.

Breaking that down by demographic characteristics, we found that:

  • Those who had a ‘general interest the topic’ as their main reason were less likely to have children under 10 (who had a more practical focus overall),
  • those who chose ‘entertainment’ were younger (e.g. 30% of 16-24s),
  • and those who chose ‘information about events’ were more likely to be 25 and over (being only 14% of 16-24s).

Social Media Follow Motivations x Age.png

  • Given the different demographics of social media platforms (see page 24) this may indicate ways to tailor content to each platform.

Our Head of Evidence Talks Through the Findings

Download the Data Presentation