Arts Council Experiences Collapse in London Artwork Visits | information


Arts Council England (ACE) reported a huge drop of 16.6 million visits to its National Portfolio Organizations (NPOs) between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

The numbers include a dramatic decrease of 17 million (28%) visitor numbers and visits to London NPOs, which was slightly offset by modest increases in some other parts of the country.

While the Southwest had 2 million (28%) fewer visitors and the Midlands lost 1.5 million (15%), the Southeast increased visitor numbers by over 3 million (51%) and 1 million (6%) more visitors to NPO activities in the North.

Crisis in exhibitions?

According to ACE’s 2017/18 annual report, 91% of the unprecedented decline can be attributed to exhibitions. He explicitly mentions “the temporary closure of a number of important cultural buildings for capital work” and “a number of biennial events that took place in 2015/16 instead of 2016/17”.

An ACE spokesperson told AP, “The Southbank Center (Hayward Gallery) and Plymouth Museums (part of the consortium led by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum) have seen closings for renovations that have severely impacted their attendance for 2016-17 while Artichoke’s attendance were influenced by the timing of some of their regular events (especially their Lumiere festivals), which means that their audience numbers are likely to fluctuate every two years … There may be other examples of this, but these were the most impactful and the most striking out our analysis. “

They continued, “The Southbank Center saw the largest drop in total visitor numbers in the portfolio, of which approximately 80% were exhibition visitors …”.

But the magnitude of the reported decline – nearly three times the total annual admissions to the British Museum, Britain’s most popular visitor attraction – raises questions about this explanation.

The organizations cited by ACE had a total of around 6 million visitors to exhibitions in 2015/16, which means that even if visitor numbers fell to zero in 2016/17, this would be less than half of the 16.6 million alleged decrease in visitors to ACE’s Annual report.

Other explanation

The figures that ACE used in its analysis come from the data in the annual returns that all NPOs must fill out.

AP found that the majority of the reported decline in attendance was due to a medium-sized visual arts organization based in London that hosts exhibitions that attract very large audiences. Such an organization appears to have been included in the 2015/16 NPO visitor figures reported by ACE, but not in 2016/17.

ACE declined to confirm AP’s analysis and will not name the organization believed to have been excluded on the grounds that “this could potentially reveal commercially sensitive information”.

However, the annual return data shows that the only NPO in the UK with an exhibition audience of this size is the London-based public arts organization UP Projects, which had around 14.5 million visitors for its exhibitions in 2015/16. Its visitor numbers are by far the highest of any NPO due to the location of their displays in public places like parks.

UP Projects founding director Emma Underhill told AP that following discussions with ACE in 2015/16, the organization introduced a new and more accurate method of calculating viewership. “We spoke to them about how we measure our audience,” said Underhill.

However, she confirmed that the organization’s 2016/17 annual return used the same viewership calculation method as in 2015/16, and said attendance figures “were not very different” in the two years.

“We’ll submit one [survey] every year we have to. But I’m not sure what they’re going to do with the data from there, ”said Underhill.

Misleading numbers

ACE labeled visitor and visitor numbers a “temporary decline” in its annual report, although it is unclear how it can know the reported decline will not continue.

However, adding and removing organizations from its “permanent sample” could affect the numbers.

After further questions from AP, an ACE spokesperson admitted that “ultimately the difference” [between the two years] has to do with inclusions in the constant sample and removal of outliers ”, although this was not mentioned in the annual report.

They stated, “… the size and composition of the constant samples change from year to year.

“Changes in constant samples are usually based on the availability of data, but we can remove outliers if we suspect they were in error and we are [have] no confirmation or explanation of discrepancies received. We can also remove extreme values ​​that would artificially distort the sums. “

ACE insists that the figures and explanations published in the 2017/18 annual report are not misleading.

Performance indicator

Sustained visitor numbers and visitor numbers at NPOs and major partner museums are of decisive importance for ACE, as they have been part of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are set out in the management agreement with the DCMS for many years.

They are among the seven KPIs in ACE’s latest management agreement with DCMS, which runs from 2016 to 2020. These were approved in May this year, and a spokesperson stated, “There are no numerical targets – the idea is that reporting against them will help lay a foundation for future management agreements”.