DCMS blog

Location, location, location?

Orian Brook


PhD student at the University of St Andrews

Orian Brook, PhD student at the University of St Andrews, is using CASE in her research to find out if the distance people live from arts venues influences their attendance.

I’ve been working to understand arts audiences for almost all of my professional life, first as a marketer, then an audience researcher, now as an academic. I’m really interested in understanding the social, psychological and geographical mechanisms that affect whether and how people engage with the arts opportunities available in many areas of the country.

Opening up the debate

The CASE programme represents an enormous advance in using a number of approaches to look at this question from many relevant angles. It’s an ongoing project but the sophistication and range of the research now available is light years away from when I started work in the sector. More than ever the DCMS research programme, including CASE, is drawing on research from a number of academic and other sectors, including sociologists, cultural economists, urban planners, cultural policy academics and think tanks, opening up the debate to a broad range of expertise.

Drivers for cultural engagement

My particular interest relates to the drivers for cultural engagement, and I’ve been fascinated to read the series of reports conceptualising and analysing these. A core part of the CASE programme, these Drivers, Value and Impact reports represent a fundamental review and analysis of available research and data. While I don’t agree with all of their methods or conclusions, it’s an impressively thorough systematic review and demonstrates the power of the multidisciplinary approach.

Do people travel for the arts?

Specifically I’m studying how the distance that people live from a venue influences whether or not they attend, something that has not previously been addressed. In other areas, it is known that the distance that people live from parks affects their levels of physical activity (Giles-Corti et al. 2005), and voter turnout is affected by proximity to polling stations (Haspel and Knotts 2005). For the arts, how do factors such as education, age and socio-economic status (allowing that they are important) influence participation, compared to the access people have to culture in their local area? My own research, analysing box office data in London, has suggested that these factors, education in particular, are significant, but much more so is the distance that people live from a venue. Of course, this varies for the type of programme and size of venue, and for different kinds of people, but still it has important implications for thinking about spending on culture.
Currently there is a lack of data on the location of arts venues, so the CASE reports on drivers for cultural engagement were only able to include in their analysis the number of Arts Council England Regularly Funded Organisations in each Local Authority, which the authors recognise is not the best measure of access to culture. However I was excited to see BOP Consulting’s report Scoping a Cultural and Sporting Assets Database (PDF 631kb), and would like to see this lead to the creation of a national database. Perhaps the interest in the CASE Local Profile Tool, the Culture and Sport Physical Asset Mapping Toolkit and the fact that that culture is now included in the National Planning Policy Framework will help to move this up the agenda.

Giles-Corti, B., M. H. Broomhall, M. Knuiman, C. Collins, K. Douglas, K. Ng, A. Lange, and R. J. Donovan. 2005. Increasing walking: How important is distance to, attractiveness, and size of public open space? American Journal of Preventive Medicine 28 (2, Supplement 2):169-76.
Haspel, M., and H. G. Knotts. 2005. Location, Location, Location: Precinct Placement and the Costs of Voting. The Journal of Politics 67 (02):560-573.

Photo by Andy Bird on Flickr. Some rights reserved.