The disappointing news of the report is that American audiences for the arts are getting older, and their numbers are declining. This means we are not reaching, nor are we educating, our children with the life-enhancing experience of the visual and performing arts.
Although the 2008 recession likely affected survey responses, there are persistent patterns of decline in participation for most art forms. Nearly 35 percent of U.S. adults – or an estimated 78 million – attended an art museum or an arts performance in the 2008 survey period, compared with about 40 percent in 1982, 1992, and 2002.
According the to NEA's recent report:
Attendance at the most popular types of arts events – such as art museums and craft/visual arts festivals – saw notable declines. The U.S. rate of attendance for art museums fell from a high of 26 percent in 1992-2002 to 23 percent in 2008, comparable to the 1982 level.
Between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater, and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline. Audiences for jazz and classical music are substantially older than before. In 1982, jazz concerts drew the youngest adult audience (median age 29). In the 2008 survey, the median age of jazz concert-goers was 46 – a 17-year increase. Since 1982, young adult (18-24) attendance rates for jazz and classical music have declined the most, compared with other art forms.
Forty-five to 54-year-olds – historically dependable arts participants – showed the steepest declines in attendance for most art events, compared with other age groups.
Educated Americans, the most likely group to attend or participate in the arts are participating less than before. College-educated audiences (including those with advanced degrees and certifications), have curbed their attendance in nearly all art forms. Ballet attendance for this group has declined at the sharpest rate – down 43 percent since 1982.
While these numbers are disturbing, there is an interesting uplift in art interest via the Internet and mass media. It is no surprise to hear that nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults went online for any purpose in 2008 survey, and of those adults, nearly 40 percent used the Internet to view, listen to, download, or post artworks or performances.
Thirty percent of adults who use the Internet, download, watch, or listen to music, theater, or dance performances online at least once a week. More than 20 percent of Internet-using adults view paintings, sculpture, or photography at least once a week.
And while this is good news, it is still disturbing to garner from the NEA's report that more Americans view or listen to broadcasts and recordings of arts events than attend them live (live theater being the sole exception). Classical and Latin or salsa music were the most popular music categories (with 40 and 33.5 million viewers/listeners, respectively), and 33.7 million adults reported listening to, or viewing programs or recordings about books/writers. The same number (33.7 million) enjoyed broadcasts or recordings about the visual arts.
If you would like to download the full report, click this link.
(c) 2009 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved