Audience Development

Getting people from very different social backgrounds involved in the arts

Barriers to arts attendance

According to numerous surveys of both visitors and non-visitors, attending arts events is generally limited to those segments of the population with a high level of education. People with lower levels of education do not normally visit the publicly funded arts institutions in Germany. If you ask them why they do not attend arts events, they will first tell you that it is too expensive, or that they do not have enough time. Hardly anyone answered that the arts are boring or irrelevant; this is because the majority of the population in Germany generally have a positive image of high art culture. Only if you ask them more indirectly can you find out more about their true reasons. We conducted a study on the barriers faced by non-attendees (Mandel/Renz 2010)star (* 3) and found that most barriers have much more to do with social and psychological reasons:

  • Financial reasons
  • Lack of time
  • Assumption that the arts are boring
  • Fear that the arts are more like work than leisure; fear of not understanding the arts due to the lack of an adequate education
  • Assumption that the arts do not fit in with one’s own lifestyle (none of their friends and acquaintances are arts attendees); fear of not knowing the etiquette
  • Assumption that the arts have nothing to do with one’s own life

The national image of arts and culture within the German population

While conducting empirical research on the motivations and barriers to arts attendance, I found that, independent from the age, social context and other similarities between visitors and non-visitors, there are certain images and attitudes towards culture and arts which seem to be the same all over Germany. These images and attitudes influence the funding policies, presentation and consumption of the arts. As can be seen in numerous studies of arts attendees, for the vast majority of Germans, “culture” is primarily understood to refer to the traditional high art forms, like classical drama, literature and fine art. Other meanings of culture, such as “everyday culture“, „popular culture“ or „the culture of the nations“, are identified much less frequently. The respondents’ own cultural activities and preferences are not perceived as “cultural”. Findings from interviews with students from Germany compared with those from other countries support the assumption that the image of culture is conditioned nationally. Foreign students from other countries tend to have a meaning of culture that encompasses much more „everyday life culture“ than the Germans have.

90% of the German population think that culture is of high importance for society, and even the majority of the non-attendees (60%) think that culture and the arts are very important and should be subsidised even more than they currently are. Although the vast majority of the German population has a very positive attitude and image of culture, and although we in Germany spend nearly 10 billion Euros of public money each year subsidising the arts – more than any other country in the world, apart from Finland – only 8% of our population regularly attends the publicly funded arts institutions in Germany. Of those who do visit arts institutions, nearly all have a high level of education.


Mandel, Birgit/Institut für Kulturpolitik (2005): Einstellungen zu Kunst und Kultur, Kulturimage und
Kulturbegriff. Ergebnisse einer Bevölkerungsumfrage in Hildesheim, durchgeführt
von Studierenden des Studiengangs Kulturwissenschaften und ästhetische Praxis
der Universität Hildesheim,


Bourdieu, Pierre (1970): Zur Soziologie der symbolischen Formen. Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.


Mandel, Birgit/Renz, Thomas (2010): Barrieren der Nutzung kultureller Einrichtungen. Eine qualitative Annäherung an Nicht-Besucher. Institut für Kulturpolitik, Universität Hildesheim,


Hoffmann, Hilmar (1979): Kultur für alle. Perspektiven und Modelle, Frankfurt/Main


cf. Council of Europe (eds.) (2002): Cultural Policies in Europe. UK

Birgit Mandel (2013): Audience Development. Getting people from very different social backgrounds involved in the arts. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten #03 ,