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NEA reports decline in arts audiences for 2008

June 15, 2009 |  6:12 pm

Museum

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

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