Covid-19 Impact on Audiences and Arts Participants

South Yorkshire is home to a vibrant, interconnected cultural sector. This has an immensely positive impact on the region’s economy, its ability to compete nationally and internationally, and the quality of life enjoyed by its residents.

A film exploring the role cultural events play in living a happy, fulfilled life by Dan Bale (Open House Pictures) and Dr Sarah Price.

South Yorkshire has shown that in “normal times”, around half of the population went to events like music performances, dance or theatre, and 40% to museums and galleries. Sheffield is also a city of creators and three in ten people in South Yorkshire actively participated in arts such as making music, dancing, acting, and painting.

Read the full report "The Impact of Covid-19 on Arts Audiences and Participants in South Yorkshire" here.

Headline findings

Arts engagement during and prior to Covid-19

  • Our sample of respondents were engaged in a variety of presentational and participatory arts activities before the pandemic that stopped abruptly with the first lockdown. 
  • Data collection tracked the struggle of respondents who missed having those opportunities in person, and our analysis considered the extent to which online activities were a sufficient substitute. 
  • The ability to access events and classes that were geographically distant or usually unaffordable were welcomed, but some artforms, particularly dance and singing, could adapt so well to the online format. 
  • While online arts activities might replace the content to a certain extent, the conversation and social ritual of attendance in person were much missed. The in-person social connection was lacking, with subsequent effects on mental health and wellbeing.
  • Some respondents gave numerous examples of how the arts in lockdown had helped them deal with anxiety, loneliness, and the loss of structure and purpose in daily life.
  • The positive contribution of arts to wellbeing was widely acknowledged, but at-home arts engagement achieved this less effectively than in-person presentational or participatory art.

Anticipated changes in engagement after Covid-19

  • Most respondents were eager to get back to previous levels of activity, once they felt confident and safe to do so. 
  • For some, there had been a reappraisal of their cultural engagement, leading them to want to do more, or to appreciate the quieter pace of life and consider being more selective. 
  • Many felt a heightened appreciation of the arts sector, which was felt to have been undervalued by the government and in need of future support.

Hopes and concerns for the future

  • Predictions for the recovery of the arts sector ranged from an optimistic hope that there would be a resurgence of highly-valued creative activity to pessimism that many freelancers and arts organisations would not survive the financial blows of repeated lockdowns. 
  • The overwhelming trend was one of uncertainty, both about respondents’ own willingness to attend events, whatever their level of motivation to do so, and about whether Covid-safe events would be as plentiful and enjoyable as in pre-pandemic cultural life.

Returning to live events

  • Eagerness to return to live events was stronger in the first months of data collection, becoming more uncertain as the pandemic continued and the safety risks of crowded gatherings remained a concern. 
  • In the second survey, many respondents stated that they would continue to explore online provision to some extent and were making careful choices about attending trusted venues and small-scale or outdoor events.
  • Those who had begun to attend again found that their confidence was built up by having safe and enjoyable experiences, increasing their likelihood to make further ticket bookings.

Changing importance of the arts in people’s lives

  • For many, the arts had already been important in their lives, and the enforced absence had been a source of unhappiness and frustration. 
  • In some cases, they had been angered by the lack of support and funding for freelance artists and independent venues, particularly by the government rhetoric about careers in the arts not being sustainable. 
  • More optimistic respondents expressed the hope that the ways in which people had turned to the arts for solace and inspiration during lockdown would lead to an increased valuing of the cultural sector, and a greater recognition of its place in the financial and social future of the country.

If you have questions or would like to be involved in this research please contact Vanessa Toulmin (

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