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NEA reports decline in arts audiences for 2008

June 15, 2009 |  6:12 pm


Audiences for the arts in the U.S. continue to decline and age at significant rates, according to a report released Monday by the National Endowment for the Arts. But the Internet holds out hope, as more people are going online to experience culture.

Nearly 35% of U.S. adults – or about 78 million people – attended an art museum or an arts performance in 2008, said the report. That's down from about 40% in 1982, 1992 and 2002. In particular, audiences for classical and jazz concerts have declined by double digits since 1982, the most of all the art forms.

Surprisingly, the largest drop in arts consumption comes from people ages 45 to 54, which has traditionally been the most dependable group of arts participants.

The NEA report said that college-educated Americans – including those with graduate degrees – are cutting back on their arts consumption across all forms. Ballet attendance by this demographic has dropped by 43% since 1982.

One optimistic note in Monday's report is the "substantial number" of people going online to experience the arts. Of the adults who went online for any purpose in 2008, approximately 40% used the Internet to view, listen to, download or post artworks or performances. About 30% of adults who use the Internet do so to consume music, theater or dance performances at least once a week. More than 20% go online to view paintings, sculpture, or photography at least once a week.

The NEA's report, which is titled "Arts Participation 2008: Highlights From a National Survey," was conducted in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey has been conducted five times since its inception in 1982 and targets U.S. adults 18 and older on their patterns of arts participation over a 12-month period.

Among the NEA's other findings was a decline in the number of adults creating and performing art. The decline was reported across all art forms, with the exception of the number of adults doing photography, which has increased from 12% in 1992 to 15% in 2008.

A more detailed version of the survey is expected in the fall. More findings from the report include:

-- The U.S. rate of attendance for art museums fell from a high of 26% in 1992-2002 to 23% in 2008, comparable to the 1982 level.

-- Audiences for jazz and classical music are substantially older than before. In 1982, jazz concerts drew the youngest adult audience -- with a median age of 29. In the 2008 survey, the median age of jazz concert-goers was 46, representing 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.

-- 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.

-- Less-educated adults – those without college degrees – have significantly reduced their already low levels of arts attendance.

The entire brochure is available for download or purchase here.

-- David Ng

Photo: A view of Damien Hirst's "Away from the Flock" at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (6)

I keep up with art in LA here--
I don't make it out to galleries or museums as much as I should, so blogs like this one are super!

I would be interested see the statistics regarding audiences' ages going back several decades. I say this because artists have complained that audiences are aging, (and by implication, dying out) since at least the 1970s. Thirty years later and the same complaint is being repeated. Is this a legitimate trend or is live performance simply the province of the older population?

Also, I will be interested to see how Internet useage and actual attendance shake out in the next few years. On the one hand, the Internet is a bearly tapped resource that has much promise. On the other hand, there is the "novelty" factor to consider. Two years ago, everyone was ready to write off movie theaters in favor of home entertainment/Internet and yet it hasn't quite panned out like that in the wake of a devastating recession.

Maybe there's something still to be said for the power of the shared experience.

The population of the country is getting older so I can only assume the generations coming up just don't care as much about the arts, pretty obvious with the current generation.

I'd be willing to bet that the 45-54 cohort today has much younger children than did the same age group in 1982. Thus, they've got more years of family responsibilities taking priority. Another change may be that 45-54 year olds today no longer are approaching their peak earning years - instead, they've been downsized and will be working at a lower-paying job forever. So they've got much less time and/or money to spend on the arts. At 50, I'm attending more than I ever did, but my local classical music and opera organizations, not to mention the Met HD broadcasts, have been so innovative and flexible that they've taken away all of my excuses.

I think art, the institution known as, needs to maybe start rethinking itself and how it wants to behave in the digital culture as well as this current economic debacle.

Art has become an elitist thing and as an artist myself, I find this appalling. Sure there's the one or two free days per month for the museums. But how many people who should have access to art can afford it? Memberships in various places are at least 100 dollars per year or more. That's a lot groceries for a working class schmoe or family. Even the Disney experiences are hugely expensive.

And while many may not be able to afford to purchase art, access to it should and always remain free. I don't mean online. There's a difference between seeing something on the screen and viewing it in person.

By allowing the public, all the public, to experience art, perhaps we as a society can raise the collective value of the arts overall.

It's high time we tore down the Ivory Tower of elitism in the arts.

Who is responsible for the downturn in attendance? Not what, but who? It is the art community.

For years the art community has foisted crap onto the public 'in the name of art' and for the sake of creating an individual name.

In the past the really respected (by the art community) art would often cause wonder and awe. Now though, look for just a moment at Damien Hirst's "Away from the Flock." Why would anyone be in awe or struck with wonder at a lamb in formaldehyde in a rectangular glass enclosure? Who is responsible for this? The art community that is unwilling to realize the the emperor has no clothes. No one of note in the art community will speak up, create agreement, cause a movement that will displace the "pick up any trash and throw it together and call it art" movement in contemporary art.

The art community has no clothes and they cannot see they have no clothes. Unfortunately for them, the viewing public seems to get the joke. They are staying away.


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