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Racial diversity is a hallmark of outdoor arts festivals, says NEA audience study

October 29, 2010 |  9:45 am

KentNaganoLAOperaOrchOjai2004 The outdoor arts festival season may have passed, but the National Endowment for the Arts is giving the American public a statistical portrait of those events.

On Friday, it released "Live from Your Neighborhood," 85 pages of facts and figures and charts dissecting what outdoor festivals offer, how expensive they are to put on, and who shows up.

A key finding, the NEA says, is that the goal of a racially and ethnically mixed audience for arts and culture is realized far more fully in outdoor festival settings than in regular arts venues.

The presence of African Americans and Hispanics (the NEA’s term) doubles in festival settings, when compared with how often they attend arts events in general. African Americans, who represent 13% of the U.S. population, made up 7% of the overall arts audience in the NEA's 2008 survey of participation in the arts, but 16% of festival audiences. Hispanics, who account for 16% of the general population, were 8% of the overall arts audience, but 15% of the festival crowd. Asians, who make up 5% of the U.S. population, were 4% of the arts audience and 6% of arts festival attendees. American Indians and Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, who together account for less than 2% of both the arts audience and the general population, made up 6% of arts festival audiences.

Whites make up 80% of the general population and 86% of the arts audience, but 73% of the festival demographic. Women, who are 51% of the general population, made up 55% of the festival crowd.

JapaneseFestivalLawrenceKHo The NEA's researchers identified 1,413 festivals in 49 states (none in Alaska). Managers of those festivals were asked to answer questions online during September and October of 2009.

The survey identified 53 theater festivals, of which 78% included Shakespeare, 20% offered musicals and 8% featured new works. Among the 312 music festivals, 51% included jazz, 48% blues, 43% folk or traditional music, 33% rock and pop, 30% country music, 29% world music and 28% Latin music. Classical music was featured at 19% of the festivals. Opera was sung at 5%, tying it with polka.

Outdoor arts festivals are by and large not a pricey affair, with 59% offering free admission and 14% costing less than $10. Only 10% of the festivals had artist payrolls of $100,000 or more, and only 14% had total spending above $250,000. Volunteerism helps keep the costs down: The average year-round festival staff had two or three full-time paid employees and an equal number of part-timers, and 45% of festivals had no paid staff. Nearly half took place in a public park or plaza.

The study showed that arts festivals tend to be a hardy breed: 35% had been going longer than 20 years, 24% for 10 to 20 years and only 20% had existed four years or less. 

-- Mike Boehm


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Upper photos: Kent Nagano conducts the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra at the 2004 Ojai Music Festival. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: A girl wears traditional Japanese garb beside a lantern display at the 68th annual Nisei Week Festival in Little Tokyo. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times