Delving into New Zealanders’ attitudes towards the arts

14 Jun 2021

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Stephen Wainwright
Posted by Stephen Wainwright

Chief Executive - Pou Whakahaere

New Zealanders and the Arts Booklet

We’ve just released the 2020 findings of our longitudinal study into New Zealanders’ attitudes towards and engagement with the arts. Stephen Wainwright reflects.

Kia ora tātou

The ‘public value’ focus of the work of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa stems from our legislative purpose – to encourage, promote and support the arts in New Zealand for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

As ever, New Zealanders and the Arts — Ko Aotearoa me ōna Toi gives us much to think about in terms of the value the arts bring to our lives. This solid research evidence is the best proxy we have for ‘all New Zealanders’ and how they see the arts, as well as shining another light on the outcomes we’re looking for around public participation and attendance.

Why do we do this research?

The research serves several unique functions. Firstly, it gives us evidence around the vital existential question, ‘Do people really care about the arts here?’. The good news is that they do, more than ever. A benefit of this research is that the longer it runs, the more we learn. The 2020 research is the sixth edition of this mahi, which first began in 2005 and has been repeated every three years since.

In addition to the evidence, which is necessarily numeric in nature, I hope you’ll be as buoyed as I was by reading what researchers call the ‘qual’ – the qualitative comments that appear through the various research reports.

These reflections bring the research to life quite wonderfully. Comments like ‘Art gives people a sense of purpose, belonging’ and ‘Art gives meaning to our lives and helps us understand the world’ capture the intrinsic essence quite marvellously.

The arts in COVID times

As the surveying took place in October 2020, and asked people to reflect on their engagement with the arts over the previous 12 months, the findings come through a lens of lockdowns. As we all know too well, there were significant limits on New Zealanders’ ability to congregate to enjoy the arts last year. Naturally, this impacted on participation and attendance, especially that which relied on people ‘getting together.’

It’s also true that the COVID-19 landscape of 2020 represents a time in which many New Zealanders reflected on what truly mattered to them. In particular, all that homegrown arts engagement helped many ‘get through’ COVID-19 in better shape than would otherwise have been the case.

The following quote captures the COVID-19 wellbeing zeitgeist particularly well, I think.

“During the lockdown you could see on social media how positively people were reacting to arts culture and the impact it had on keeping a lot of people’s health and wellbeing and general outlook on life happy and fulfilled.”

Research, like culture, is always on the move

Everyone coming to this research will be coming with their own perspective. Our aim is for this research to be of value to you, whatever your interest.

There is great deal of information on offer. Over on our research hub you can find:

  • our research summary
  • the detailed adult and young persons reports
  • dedicated reports exploring Māori, Pasifika and Asian New Zealanders’ relationship with the arts
  • a report on New Zealanders with lived experience of disability and their relationship with the arts
  • regional and city reports.

You can nibble or feast on this marvellous research buffet – I invite you to dive right in. If you have any questions, comments or insights to share, then please let us know: research@creativenz.govt.nz

Finding value, and lead indicators

Inside spread of New Zealanders and the Arts

The research summary is a great place to start, and the ‘Key insights’ section gives a nice summary of the main findings for those who are pressed for time or want a quick snapshot.

What’s very stimulating about the data is what it indicates for the future. For me, two things leapt out.

The first relates to attitudes towards the arts. As we note, two of the three biggest ‘movers’ in terms of changing attitudes relate to public funding for the arts. Three out of five adults agree that the arts should receive public funding (60%; up 7% on 2017) and over half of us agree that our local council should give money to support the arts (54%; up 7%).

We don’t just see these positive shifts in a small number of questions though – it’s across the board. Overall, nearly a fifth of adults aged 15 and over (17%) say they’re more positive about the arts than they were 12 months ago.

As a lot of arts activity in Aotearoa is enabled by public investment, it will be reassuring for public investors to know that New Zealanders see increasing benefit in public investment.

The second point relates to a dramatic and positive shift in the attitudes of young people, especially for boys. This is an important lead indicator because the beliefs and practices that shape our world as young people so often flow through the rest of our lives.

When we last did the research three years ago, we noted that boys were well behind girls when it came to how they saw themselves creatively. In 2017, 77% of girls agreed that doing creative things makes them feel ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, compared with 57% of boys. This time, 86% of girls felt positive, but boys leapt up to 73%.

This is quite a remarkable shift. When families see the benefits of creativity for the wellbeing and development of their children, it will lead to benefits for the whole family.

As a final point, in future years the 2020 edition of the research will likely come to be seen as the ‘COVID research’, just as the 2011 research felt the consequences of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Research does that; it reveals a moment in time. In many ways, it’s the COVID-19 context which makes the attitudinal research, especially, so interesting. New Zealanders were having a collective moment and reappraising what matters. Be reassured, the arts matter, more than ever.

Tēnā te ngaru whati, tēnā te ngaru puku.
There is a wave that breaks, there is a wave that swells.