Are you a Metrocultural? – by Hamish MacPherson

Do you like art? Do you have a degree? Do you live in a city? Since you’re reading the Chisenhale Dance Space blog you probably answered yes to at least two of those so maybe you’re a ‘Metrocultural‘ – one of ten categories the Audience Agency have devised to make sense of how people in the UK ‘engage’ with the arts.

Other organisations, like the Arts Council, have similar systems and more generally audience segmentation is pretty much standard for commercial and social (e.g. health) marketing. As the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) put it “Segmentation methods are instrumental to finding out about publics and to processes of making publics”.

As part of our community research we commissioned the Audience Agency to create a profile of Tower Hamlets residents which included this audience segmentation. As it happens the two types most frequently occurring in Tower Hamlets are typical of most London boroughs – Metroculturals i.e. well-off liberal urbanites (the most engaged segment) and Kaleidoscope Creativity who are characterised by low levels of cultural engagement.


Rachel Gomme’s Water Bearer part of Canalside Festival. Photo: Will Huntley

Knowing things like this can hopefully help us and our members think about who we might want to engage with in our artistic practices if we want to have a relevance to local people. We have to remember that these kind of broad simplified pictures hide as much as they reveal and need to be thought of as clues to help with other methods, like talking to people.

We should also be aware that audience segmentation isn’t a neutral description of how the world (or Tower Hamlets) actually is but is normative “in the sense that their design and application is always shaped by the broader purposes of public engagement strategies of which they are one aspect” (as the AHRC points out). So these categories reflect the values, economics and priorities of mainstream UK arts.

Or another way to put it, the most culturally engaged people are identified as such by whether they conform to certain behaviours and attitudes decided upon by influential systems and organisations. That maybe sounds more sinister than it is – we are all embroiled in these norms, whether we are arts organisations or individuals, but we also deviate and resist them too. Often at the same time.

Here’s a little film by Will Gompertz that covers this quite clearly.

Some of the other things that we found out were that Tower Hamlets has a higher proportion of 18 – 34 year olds compared with London as a whole.


Source: ONS (Census 2011)

There are proportionately more families with 0 – 4 year olds than London as a whole and there are also high numbers of students and people who are unemployed or with no qualifications. More clues.

My next blog post will look at another part of the puzzle – some of the organisations we went out and met in person.