"Middle Australia" regards arts and culture as essential to its way of life, according to a new report out today, as cinemas, theatres and institutions grapple with the challenge of getting people back into their buildings with the future easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
The research also found this so-called "middle Australia" embraced "arts and culture" together, and especially loved festivals, local activities and live performances - anything that brought the community together. But it also regarded "the arts", alone, as elitist; for the wealthy and not for them.
Commissioned by Canberra-based think tank A New Approach, the research found that even if this group was made up of people who were not devotees of high art, they saw creativity as essential to everything from how they worked to their mental health to the wellbeing of their children, ANA program director Kate Fielding said.
"Their feedback was emphatic that these activities are fundamental to the Australian way of life; indeed, to being human," she said.
It comes as businesses and institutions based on the arts and culture come to grips with the realities of society's gradual reawakening from the pandemic.
One major cinema chain - Hoyts - says it won't be reopening cinemas in Canberra until at least possibly June 19, when 100 people are expected be allowed to gather under stage-three coronavirus social distancing restrictions, assuming medical advice stays the same and depending on "the availability of new release Hollywood content".
The Canberra Theatre is also seeking more clarity on the restrictions. Its director, Alex Budd, says social distancing requirements would see only about 200 people allowed in to the 1200-seat Canberra Theatre space, which might not make economic or even social sense.
"One hundred people is feasible in our courtyard studio, very smaller-scale stuff, and of course we would entertain anything of that scale," Mr Budd said.
"But to open the doors and turn the lights on in the two bigger houses, you really need to be able to operate at close to the 600-seat capacity of the The Playhouse or the 1200-seat capacity of the large Canberra Theatre.
"The other issue is people like to go to shows when they're full, because they feel like they've chosen something that's popular and that's all part of the wonderful, live theatrical experience."
The report released on Thursday, meanwhile, A View from Middle Australia: perceptions of arts, culture and creativity, was commissioned by Canberra-based think tank A New Approach, which lobbies for "effective investment and return in Australian arts and culture".
It was conducted in February, asking "middle Australians"- middle-aged, middle income swing voters from suburban and regional Australia - how they regarded arts and culture. Focus groups were surveyed well before the coronavirus shutdown started, but also included the prescient question: "What would Australia be like without arts and cultural activities?"
That hypothetical became something of a reality a few weeks later when social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home recommendations meant cinemas, galleries, live music venues, theatres, libraries and other cultural institutions shut their door to the public.
The survey found people believed without arts and culture, Australia would be like an authoritarian or war-torn nation; they would be "much more isolated as individuals" and "life would be horrible, no freedom of expression - it would be a black world or a white world. No colours or grey". Respondents also believed there would be an increase in mental health issues and drug use without arts and culture.
Ms Fielding, said with arts and culture funding likely to be tight post-coronavirus, there was an opportunity for both government and private enterprise to tailor their events.
One of its key recommendations was "giving funding priority to activities which provide opportunities for participation, co-creation and increased access (e.g. festivals and local and regional events)".
"If we're talking about public money, government funding, I think there's some really useful and interesting things in here about how to make sure that what is being put on is relevant and interesting to this cohort, if that's a priority," Ms Fielding said.
"In the context of COVID-19, what this tells us is that a broad section of Australia think that arts and cultural activities, festivals and events, are really important for bringing our communities together and they want those things to be available to them, to their children and the other people in their communities.
"What we saw in the research was that people were really positive about any local events, anything they could get to in their neighbourhood or their town, their own community, there was such enthusiasm for that. It was seen as accessible, easy to get to, the price point was easy.
"I guess for anything looking at how we bring the community together, how we reconnect people into that public life coming out of COVID-19, some really important findings here or how arts and culture can be part of that and why we should be investing in arts and culture to help us do that."