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Public turning to the arts for comfort and welcome distraction during the Pandemic

Wednesday 16th December 2020 at 9am 0 Comments


A new survey commissioned by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland reveals the high numbers of people turning to the arts for solace and relief during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Responses showed that many are choosing to turn to books, crafting, playing a musical instrument, photography and painting, as a source of comfort and distraction, while more people than ever are switching to online sources to access concerts, theatre performances and classes. 

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland commissioned Social Market Research (SMR) in October to undertake a survey to establish the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the consumption of the Arts in Northern Ireland. The survey captured the opinions of more than 1,000 people from a broad range of ages and backgrounds to gain an understanding into the extent to which engagement in the arts has enhanced education provision and supported mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 76% of respondents had attended an arts activity or event in the year prior to lockdown in March 2020, with this falling significantly to 23% in the period since lockdown
  • Reading for pleasure was the most common arts-related activity (51%) that respondents had engaged in in the year leading up to lockdown, with the same holding true for the period since lockdown (47%)
  • 60% had participated in or viewed online arts activity:

✓ 43% watched live social media streams/ broadcasts (e.g. of music events)
✓ 28% watched filmed performances of theatre, concerts and /or dance shows online
✓ 18% looked at art, paintings, and photographs online (e.g. from a virtual collection)
✓ 14% participated in an online arts class / group / tutorial (e.g. via zoom or Microsoft teams)
✓ 31% said the arts they took part in online or via social media were from Northern Ireland

  • Among those engaging with the Arts during lockdown, 13% did so for the first time, 25% engaged more than they used to, 32% less than they used to, 20% engaged to the same level and 9% were unsure
    • 68% engaged with the Arts for personal enjoyment and wellbeing
    • 33% did so because they were curious and wanted to try something new
    • 21% did so to engage with friends and family not in their household
    • 15% did so to engage children and young people in their care
    • 12% did so to extend their social circle
    • 5% did so to engage older people in their care
    • Of the 13% engaging with the arts for the first time were more likely to be older, be from lower down the socio-economic scale and have a disability


Evidence from the survey also shows that the public would be more comfortable attending arts events or activities in outdoor settings, although a majority did say they would attend an arts event in an indoor space if public health measures were in place, with social distancing being the most important. Most respondents in the survey supported the ‘free for view’ model of consuming arts with limited support for pay for view or donation based models.

Karly Greene, Director of Strategic Development and Partnerships, commented: 

“The evidence from this survey demonstrates that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on how we are accessing and participating in the arts. We have seen a significant fall in attendance at arts-related events and activities in Northern Ireland and a shift in people’s behaviours, towards online consumption.  The survey has also confirmed that the majority of people place a high value on the arts and, although venues are closed and most live events and classes are cancelled, that they still want to find ways to engage and take part.

“Personal enjoyment and wanting to try something new were the main reasons cited for engaging with the arts during lockdown. But, thinking about life after lock down, this survey has also confirmed that while there is a desire to return to live events, people need to feel comfortable and safe, with a preference for more events happening in outdoor settings and when indoor, with appropriate public safety measures in place.”


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