A Question of Equity - April 1990

Submitted by root on Mon, 08/07/2017 - 17:44

Women in the Arts


As can be seen from the brief it was intended to look at audiences in terms of statistics already available within the region. Although organisations tended to monitor audiences it is quite often only in terms of economic class and geography. Several of the smaller organisations had a comprehensive picture of their audiences but the figures were not gathered in a way that made comparisons a possibility.

However comprehensive audience surveys at the Playhouse (1981), the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (1987) and the Bluecoat (1988) all show that women make up a greater percentage of the art audience than men.

This reflects national findings to date which show that art audiences are predominantly female but the percentage of women to men varies from art form to art form. For instance, in dance women average 74% of the audience, in theatre the balance fluctuates but is closer to 55% female and 45% male, and within the concert and opera going audience the difference is in terms of 1 to 2%.

These figures need to be set within the demographic breakdown for the country overall which show that women make up 51% of the population - therefore the concert and opera going audiences can be seen to be, in terms of gender, representative of the population as a whole whereas the dance audience is obviously not.

However the predominance of women - or in most cases something close to the natural demographic balance within audiences, does not mean that all women are more likely to attend art events than all men or that all women have an equal access to the arts. Art audiences are not only predominantly female but are also predominantly middle-aged, and drawn from the middle and upper social grades. And these differences, particularly in terms of the socio-economic balance within an audience, are often in direct opposition tothe natural demographic balance. That is to say that socio-economic groups A and B make up 17% of the population but a much higher percentage of art audiences. Therefore working class women and elderly women (recent surveys have shown that the over 65s are the groups least likely to be involved in the arts) and young women are all likely to under-represented within art audiences.

Very little work has been done to date on the racial composition of audiences though at present the Arts Council has commissioned a survey. I have not come across any work which addresses the percentages of disabled people within an audience.

The facts around audiences raise a number of questions with regard to gender issues - for instance I find myself wondering whether the predominantly female audience for dance could be linked to the chronic under-funding of dance - but limited time has not allowed me to undertake the further research required to come to any firm conclusions about most of them. However there is one conclusion that is inescapable and that is, we would seem to have audiences in which women are either the majority or have some kind of parity with men and yet they are being fed a diet of works in the main created by men.