Some have called for government-funded marketing campaigns, once the crisis wanes, to encourage audiences into theatres and other cultural spaces.
The survey found that a third of respondents would resume attending arts and cultural events “as soon as legally allowed”, but a further 28 per cent would wait until the rate of new infections was “near zero” and another 30 per cent would wait until they were vaccinated or immune, or when testing and treatment were broadly available.
More than one in 10 said they could not foresee attending cultural events until there was “no risk” at all.
Adrian Collette, chief executive of the Australia Council, acknowledged the data highlighted “the initial challenges in encouraging audiences to return to live experiences”.
He said cultural experiences would help trigger recovery in other sectors: they “will have people hitting the road for domestic tourism, and the shared experiences of live performances and public events will draw us back into our urban and regional centres and their restaurants, bars and cafes”.
The data also showed Victorians slightly more tentative than other states about returning to cultural events – possibly reflecting the state government’s harder line on community restrictions.
Nationally (and in NSW) 22 per cent would get out and about as soon as it was allowed, but in Victoria the figure was 19 per cent.
The research collated responses from more than 23,000 people to surveys sent out in May by museums, galleries, performing arts organisations and festivals to a random sample of their audiences.
Most respondents wanted to see the same kinds of performances as before, with 21 per cent wishing for more light-hearted programs.
More than a third wanted in the future to have a choice between attending in person and watching a live stream.
Respondents were also mostly supportive of future precautions to minimise health risks, including hand sanitiser at all doors, seating patrons further apart than before, taking temperatures at the door and only allowing cashless transactions.
The researchers will collect data again in July and September to track how audience sentiment changes as restrictions ease.
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.