New insights from The Audience Agency’s Cultural Participation Monitor show that the long shadow of covid is still affecting the cultural sector, resulting in further challenging times for UK arts and culture organisations as the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis begin to bite.


UK arts venues are caught between two demanding trends. There are still significant numbers of people thinking about COVID-19 - especially among older audiences. This is of course compounded by the cost-of-living crisis – with younger people especially affected. Our previous evidence showed that more younger people were returning to cultural events following the pandemic, but this is now being dampened by the cost-of-living crisis.

These issues are affecting ticket sales in different ways for different organisations but we’re also beginning to see negative trends in other key areas which help arts and cultural organisations to balance the books. For example, membership uptake is down, people are booking much later and expecting to donate less. These insights show how these complex, hard-to-navigate and compound effects could have a devastating impact on many arts organisations.

Key Findings

  • Attendance. Over a quarter of the population are attending arts and culture less than before the pandemic. (37% said that they were attending less, but only 12% more). It’s a similar picture 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 U35s, under 80% over 55 (under 70% for over 75s).
  • Attitudes to COVID-19. The pandemic has receded as a perceived risk, with a majority (51%) now saying that the risk of contracting or passing on COVID-19 in day-to-day situations is ‘low’ or ‘very low’. Nonetheless, it remains a key factor for between a fifth and a quarter of people across a range of measures.
  • Cost of Living. People's concerns about money are affecting attendance. Nearly half the population are feeling worse off and - of these - half say they are attending less than they used to before Covid. 48% people feel worse-off than 12 months ago (cf. 12% are feeling better-off), of whom 50% say they are attending less (8% say more – so a net change of 42%). 56% of those attending less said that it was because of money, much more than any other reason.
  • Late Booking. Venues have reported higher levels of late booking since the pandemic, and this is confirmed by respondents. 41% of people agree ‘I tend to book more last minute than I used to before the pandemic’, reflecting a major shift in behaviour.
  • Donations. 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 (only 17% not expecting to reduce donations – a net downward change of a third).
  • Christmas Bookings. Key for many organisations, pantos and Christmas shows are back to pre-COVID-19 levels however. This suggests that people are still willing to pay for special occasions, high days and holidays. Analysis of both our national booking data and of survey responses underlines this. 28% of respondents said that they had attended a panto or Christmas show at a theatre in the last panto season.

Expert Responses

“This new evidence confirms that arts and cultural organisations are suffering a double whammy right now. Trying to navigate these complex reasons for income being down is very challenging for organisations. Developing a really deep understanding of your audience is going to make a big difference because what's working for a peer organisation in a different place with a different audience won’t necessarily work in your community.

But the other obvious response is to keep costs low and this is inevitably bad news for the cultural workforce. COVID-19 caused real hardship for some, particularly freelancers and casual-workers, and drove a brain-drain as others left the cultural sector for more stable and lucrative ones.

If you look at this evidence, it’s clear that the arts will continue to struggle under the long shadow of COVID-19 and need more targeted support, specific to the perfect storm of challenges we are facing. While the tax reliefs in the recent budget are welcome, it would be good to see more ringfencing for culture in other areas, like levelling-up funds.”

Anne Torreggiani, CEO, The Audience Agency

“These latest findings from the Cultural Participation Monitor confirm what we are seeing in visitor attractions. Tourism was hit first, hit hardest and will take the longest to recover from the economic effects of COVID, and, coupled with the cost-of-living crisis, we are seeing the sector work hard to repair their balance sheets. But I'm really encouraged that visitors want to spend special time, in special places with special people and are prioritising visitor attractions against all other leisure spending because of the importance of them to their lives.”

Bernard Donoghue, Director, ALVA

“This vital monitor sadly provides further evidence of a combined set of crises, or even a permacrisis, in the arts and cultural sector and highlights the need for ongoing fiscal support for the sector. However, we know that audiences find joy and solace in the arts in times of crisis; and as the cost-of-living crisis abates, there is hope that the sector will be able to rebuild its earned income and continue to attract investment from government departments beyond DCMS.”

Ben Walmsley, Director, CCV – Centre for Cultural Value

“This latest wave of the monitor gives us a real insight into two significant but quite different phenomena affecting the creative and cultural sectors right now. On the one hand older audiences have residual concerns about Covid-19 and on the other younger audiences are feeling the pinch from the cost-of-living crisis. If, as the monitor also reveals, audiences are booking increasingly last minute and donating less too, cultural organisations - and the workforce that keeps them running - are facing something of perfect storm that policy makers really need to pay careful attention to.

Yes, the Chancellor’s most recent budget included tax reliefs for some cultural institutions which will absolutely help keep venues operational in the near term, but the seemingly perpetual state of crisis that the creative and cultural sectors face, and which this monitor brings into stark relief, shows that the status quo simply isn’t sustainable anymore. The pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have revealed deep structural cracks that have resulted in too many years of underinvestment in the creative and cultural life of the UK. We ask policy makers to keep in mind that people clearly want to engage in culture - in all its permutations - as we hurtle towards the next general election.”

Trevor MacFarlane FRSA, Director, Culture Commons

The Data in More Detail

Full key finding insights from this wave of the Cultural Participation Monitor attached to this release and will be published on along with further evidence-based insights. The Cultural Participation Monitor is The Audience Agency's nationwide longitudinal (ongoing) panel survey of changing views about participating in creative and cultural activities through the pandemic and beyond.

For press enquiries, interviews, quotations or further information contact:

Rosie Hanley, PR & Communications Manager, The Audience Agency