Last week (9 August) saw new culture secretary Karen Bradley (pictured above) make her maiden speech at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall – specifically focussing on the need to increase access to arts and culture.
Outlining the importance of the Department for Culture Media & Sport sectors to the UK economy (accounting “for a big chunk of GDP and lots of jobs”) and for Liverpool in particular, Bradley reiterated that culture should be “available to everyone, not the preserve of a privileged few”. She also highlighted some concerning statistics from her department’s Taking Part survey, revealing: “The gap in arts engagement between white adults and adults from a black or minority ethnic background has widened. And people with a long-standing illness or disability are significantly less engaged in the arts.”
Much of this echoed the Government’s White Paper for Culture – published in March 2016, – which used the word “access”, in its widest sense, some 31 times.
Policymakers clearly have a message they are trying to get through. But what does this mean in tangible terms for the millions of music-loving Deaf and disabled people in the UK?
Talking about access is one thing, delivering it…well, that’s something else.
At first glance, the Taking Part data is a cause for concern. The latest figures for live music attendance and disability (November 2015) show a decline from previous years – albeit they are extrapolated from a relatively small sample size – and also suggest that attendance at live music across the board went down in 2015.
This would run counter to the industry’s own data from UK Music, which shows a surging popularity in live music attendances and especially from so-called “music tourists”. Meanwhile, Attitude is Everything’s annual ticketing survey, published last month, revealed another healthy increase in disabled audiences at festivals and venues signed up to our Charter of Best Practice, with attendances up 26 per cent.
From our findings and experience, live music businesses that invest in accessible practices and make a determined effort to partner with Attitude is Everything, and reach out to disabled customers, see a marked pay-off. Not only in the £7.5m added to the live music economy, but also in the cultural shift demanded by government.
You get out what you put in.
Ironically, all this is evident from the venue at which the culture secretary’s speech was delivered. The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall joined the bronze level of our charter in 2016 and displays the sort of best-practice approach that will almost guarantee increased engagement with disabled audiences. This includes a free access scheme, free-of-charge tickets for PAs, parking for Blue Badge holders and a hearing induction loop, all wrapped up in a clear, concise and informative website.
If this standard of service was replicated throughout the UK, it would offer a fast track to ensuring Deaf and disabled fans (and their friends and families) have the confidence, knowledge, encouragement and sense of inclusivity to fully engage with live music.
That, of course, will take more than words and speeches to achieve.
For any live music business wanting to take action – or for any passing culture secretary who may happen to be reading – please as a first step go to www.attitudeiseverything.org.uk without delay.