The role of place in cultivating artistic practice, communities and audiences is well established and the economic, social and cultural benefits that flow from this are becoming better understood. By contrast, the factors impacting and influencing access to these places is poorly theorised. This paper identifies and examines these factors as they apply to live music in Australia, through a qualitative survey of live music patrons and venues. We compare the themes identified from our data with existing theories of access in the arts, with a particular focus on the ways in which place-based music scenes may encourage or exclude participation. We address the question of how access affects participation within these scenes, as well as how access might be improved.
Access is an ongoing concern of much research and cultural policy relating to the visual and performing arts, yet it is poorly defined as a concept within this literature. Access is often framed in terms of social and cultural factors, with an emphasis on the impact of education and social status on arts attendance and participation, which are deemed to be the key determinants of arts engagement when all other factors are held constant (Belfiore; Bunting et al, From Indifference; Bunting et al, Informing Change; Kawashima; Keaney). Access is also used to refer to more tangible barriers to arts and music participation, such as disposable income and government regulation (European Union). In Australia, access tends to be equated with policies and initiatives enabling performers and audiences with a disability to participate in the arts and music sectors (Austin and Brophy; Bennison; Reimann).
Underpinning much of this discourse is the assumption that participation or attendance in the arts is a public good; that there is some implicit value or benefit that is denied to anyone without access (Kawashima 61). Much post-war cultural policy has been founded on this assumption, which demonstrates an instrumentalist approach to the arts. Within this understanding the arts are utilized as an "instrument" through which economic, social and employment benefits can be achieved (Belfiore 92; Hesmondhalgh et al 71). By extension non-participation in the arts is identified as a problem, which can be redressed through programs that increase access for groups or individuals who are in some way excluded or disenfranchised (Stevenson 81). For example, the European Union’s Work Plan for Culture 2011-2014 suggests that:
The concept of ‘access’ focuses on enabling new audiences to use the available culture on offer, by ‘opening doors’ to non-traditional audiences so that they may enjoy an offer or heritage that has previously been difficult to access because of a set of barriers. (European Union 7)