Barriers to Engagement and Participation

21 Sep 2011 in Artforms, Audience Development Blog

What is it that stops, prevents, or puts people off attending or participating in the arts? One of the biggest hurdles we face when considering marketing or audience development is how to attract those who have not engaged before or have become a lapsed attender. Of course there are numerous reasons why individuals may not be inclined to attend an event or activity, and we need to consider all the reasons that could be a barrier to attendance and participation if we are going to try and engaged with the disengaged. The good thing about a barrier, most, if not all, can be broken down and overcome, but that relies on you knowing how to break that barrier down first.



Let’s take a look at the possible barriers that could be facing your potential audience.

Time Considerations

  1. When I am free, they are shut – Are your opening hours appropriate for your audiences? Can people who work long hours during the week or work anti-social hours still have access to your arts event/activity/venue?
  2. I can’t make it at those times – Are your performance times the most accessible for your audiences? Can parents collect their kids from school, take them home and still have enough time to attend a performance? Do your finishing times fit in well with the local public transportation schedules such as the local buses and trains?
  3. I am just too busy – a lot of the time individuals cite time constraints – they feel they don’t have the time to engage or participate. It might be that they are too busy to participate in the types of events you provide, but present them with something that they are genuinely interested in and I bet you they will find the time to get involved.


Cost Implications

  1. It’s too expensive to travel to and from the venue – With rising fuel prices, and the reliance on private transport in rural and remote areas, the cost of travel is a real and genuine barrier to attendance.
  2. The whole experience is too pricey – ticket prices are not really a barrier any longer, research and practical experience has demonstrated that ticket price is not as pivotal a barrier to attendance, as people are willing to pay as long as it is value for money. However, when you consider the whole experience and the cost implications then a night out to the local theatre can become a pricey affair. Additional experience costs include food and drink, travel, accommodation in some cases, time and of course the cost of buying the tickets (and if that is for a family of four it can obviously be a big financial commitment).



  1. I don’t know where it is – How accessible is your location for the diversity of audiences you currently or could be serving? If you are situated in a more remote or isolated area then considering how people travel to an area and how they can then navigate to your location is key in understanding what barriers are presented to people who do not have a local knowledge of your area.
  2. I can’t see find the venue – How well signposted is your venue? Have you ever looked at your location from the point of view of a visitor who has never visited you before? The biggest and most practical barrier is signage. Is your venue well signposted along main roads for instance? Or have you offered a Google map on your website so people can locate you easily? How well signposted is the entrance to your venue? These small but practical issues can make a world of difference if you address them early in your marketing and communication plans.
  3. The weather prevented me from attending – this is particularly appropriate for rural and more remote audiences who will experience harsher weather conditions, which through no fault of their own or yours, prevents them from attending your events, or simply puts them off from booking for fear of being stopped by the snow, wind and rain. Have you considered what kind of Rainy Day or Bad Weather refund you can offer, or how you can still involve those who were unable to attend by sending them a personal email with images from the event, the review, a programme, anything that thanks them for their commitment.


Lack of Accessible Information

  1. There was no available information about the show – Are you communicating all that you can to your potential audiences? A major barrier to attendance is a lack of visible information that is available to people who are not already committed attenders. Not everyone is going to look to the same resources or places for information, and for non-attenders they are not going to be looking at all. So making sure the information you have is more widely accessible is essential to breaking down such a fundamental barrier to attendance and participation.
  2. I didn’t know they did that – Have you clearly communicated all of the services you offer? It is easy to communicate to people who already come through your doors the diversity of services you offer, but how well are you communicating that outside of your doors? If non-attenders are not aware of the services you offer then you are unlikely to attract them to your offerings.



  1. I can’t get there easily – Access to public transport is a big issue, particularly in more rural and remote areas. If your audiences can’t get access to public transport, or it is limited in terms of its service, then this can really hamper your ability to attract new or non-attenders to your offerings. Although there is little you can do about directly improving your local public transport services, you are in a position to help your audiences who do not have access to private transport. Proving information about public transport routes and times on your website to considering how the start and finish times for the performance fit with local public transport timetables, or considering how you can encourage groups of people to come together – car sharing, or sharing the cost of a taxi to and from your venue might be the simple solution you are looking for.
  2. Where can I park? – We rely heavily on private transport, but does your venue provide adequate parking facilities? You may be restricted in developing or improving parking facilities, however you can always point out to your audiences where they can park locally, especially if you are trying to attract people out with your local area or tourists, the last thing you want to encourage is a build up of traffic and parked cars outside of your venue each night. Alternatively you can use you website to promote the available public transportation options. Perhaps there is an opportunity to partner up with a local restaurant or hotel who have available parking facilities, might they be able to offer your audiences a place to park for the duration of the performance? (You will need to consider what is in it for your local restaurant owner first though).


It’s not for me

  1. I am not interested – The arts is not for everyone, much like sport or science isn’t of interest to everyone. It’s important to acknowledge that you can’t change everyone’s minds, but understanding that there are people who consider the arts as something on the periphery of their lives is important when you consider your marketing messages. If the subject matter or art form doesn’t particularly appeal to an individual, maybe the socialising element or the enjoyment of going out for the night is something that you should focus on communicating.
  2. I have no one to attend with – for some individuals attending on their own is not an option, not everyone is as confident in attending an event solo, and feeling self-conscious is not particularly conducive to a good night out. There is also the added peer pressure which individuals (predominantly young people) experience in attending something which is not necessarily part of their peer group experience.
  3. I wouldn’t understand it – knowledge and prior experience of arts and culture is a key element in creating attendance and repeat attendance. If your non-audiences do not feel they possess the knowledge or understanding to appreciate a piece of art or theatre, then they are unlikely to see their attendance at an event worthwhile or value for money. This is a barrier which can be addressed through providing more useful background information, particularly when showcasing an unusual or contemporary art form. Reviews and features are a great way of giving an insight into the artform, the event and the experience, using your marketing materials to give more information about the art form is another effective way of engaging those who might not otherwise consider attending.

Of course, as I mentioned in the introduction, there are numerous barriers that face audiences, above is only a selection. Some of the other barriers which have been identified by research and practical experience include:

Other Barrier’s to Attendance and Participation

  • A lack of cultural diversity in the programme
  • A bad past experience – either of the art form or the venue
  • Unclear and misleading marketing messages
  • Poor customer service
  • The historical or past image of the venue/organisation.
  • Relationship or family responsibilities keep me from attending
  • Work responsibilities keep me from attending
  • Physical or health limitations
  • Language – particularly for those who English is not their first language.
  • I don’t ‘Get It’
  • My friends and family don’t attend
  • There is a lack of facilities that meet my needs
  • Lifestyle change I’ve just had a baby/moved house/ got married/ gone on an expensive holiday – there are obvious lifestyle changes which can impact on free time, disposable income and therefore the ability to attend.
  • The number and/or age of my children – there might not be anything appropriate for them, or it might cost too much to take the whole clan.
  • Local aesthetics – unfortunately the local aesthetics of the area can be a barrier, it can put people off. (This is probably more a significant barrier for those who live in more urban and city areas).
  • Safety – this can be a concern for individuals especially when attending evening performances.
  • Arts activities are boring
  • I have never experienced an arts event before
  • I am too old/young/middle aged
  • The lack of quality and talent in productions
  • The lack of choice in my area.