Performing arts organizations face attendance, financial challenges

15 December 2001, Canada

Canada's largest theatre companies, dance companies, opera companies and symphony orchestras face major challenges in expanding their audience and generating sufficient revenues to be financially sustainable, says a new report conducted by the Canada Council for the Arts. The Research Report on Large Performing Arts Organizations analyzed the situation of the 29 largest performing arts organizations in the country, in an effort to assess trends, challenges and opportunities facing this important sector of the arts community. The "Big 29" organizations include such well-known arts institutions as the Stratford Festival, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Canadian Opera Company, and the symphony orchestras in Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Kitchener-Waterloo. The report was prepared in consultation with a working group consisting of arts administrators and specialists in arts financing, with a particular expertise in the needs of large performing arts organizations. "These organizations often act as anchors for their discipline on the national stage, representing important sources of creation, production and employment for artists and technical workers," says the introduction to the report. "They are also often important tourism engines, generating economic activities for their communities and environments." The report says that public funding of large performing arts organizations has failed to keep pace with increases in operating costs and that in the latter half of the 1990s, growth in private sponsorships, donations and special fundraising initiatives "has been insufficient to make up for declining public funding and does not appear to be increasing in any significant way." It points out that performing arts organizations have been particularly hard-hit by declines in arts audiences: between 1996-97 and 1998-99, for example, total attendance for the entire performing arts sector fell by almost 4 per cent, while the number of performances fell by 3.3 per cent. Although the large organizations actually increased their total number of performances, the increase consisted primarily of second stage, festival, community outreach and workshop performances, while mainstage and tour performances declined. While ticket sales for dance performances showed a modest increase in 1998-99, attendance at all other types of performing arts events declined. Factors contributing to this decline include demographic changes - including a slowdown in population growth - and changes in consumer habits and new technologies. "The profusion of home-based entertainment options is a major competitive factor facing performing arts organizations," the report says. "CDs, the Internet, satellite broadcasters and pay per view television combine to provide many moderately priced alternatives to attendance at live performing arts events...This trend will only continue to intensify as new technologies are introduced into the market." The report concludes that large performing arts organizations will require a major infusion of public funding on a long-term basis, incentives to encourage business to support the arts and initiatives aimed at attracting new audiences and retaining existing ones. "Marketing, outreach and venue improvements are the approaches that seem to make the most sense in the current environment, but all require new funding in order to be effected." The full text of the report is available on the Canada Council website at For further information about the report, contact Claire McCaughey, Research Manager, (613) 566-4414, ext. 4522 or 1-800-263-5588, ext. 4522.