NEA Report: Arts Audiences Grow More Diverse Amid Declines

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 12:01 AM

As the U.S. population diversifies, and the fine arts compete for audiences with video games, movies and other entertainment, arts organizations are increasingly tasked with seeking out new communities.

The National Endowment for the Arts on Thursday gave arts groups a blueprint of sorts, publishing a Survey of Public Participation in the Arts for 2012. It aims to provide a statistical snapshot of audiences across the performing and visual arts.

Surveying 38,000 adults, the NEA shows that attendance declined for traditional, main-line cultural forms – theater, museums and classical concerts – between 2008, the last survey period, and 2012. At the same time, audiences became more racially and ethnically diverse, and forms including Latin music, jazz and non-ballet dance performances saw modest upticks in attendance.

(WQXR will host a panel discussion and webcast in The Greene Space on Oct. 3, in which several arts leaders will discuss the report and the future of audiences in the U.S.)

Across the board, arts attendance was down somewhat in 2012, with 33 percent of adults reporting that they participated in a "benchmark" arts event. In 2008 — just before the global recession hit into Americans' spending habits — the same measurement was 34.6 percent. In 2002, 39.4 percent of adults participated in the arts.

Theater saw the steepest drops. In 2012, 8.3 percent of adults attended a play, down from 9.4 percent in 2008. Musical theater attendance also dropped, with 15.2 percent of adults attending in 2012, down from 16.7 percent in 2008.

Classical music audiences declined from 9.3 percent of adults in 2008 to 8.8 percent in 2012. They also grew older: Adults ages 35 to 54 reduced their attendance while those 65 and up participated at the highest levels (in 2008, the 55-plus crowd accounted for 33.5 percent of audiences; in 2012 they were 36 percent).

Despite areas of decline, greater audience diversity was also evident. Museum and gallery attendance dipped – from 22.7 percent of adults in 2008 to 21 percent in 2012 – but the drop-off was most pronounced among white audiences. Museum-going rates for African-American and Hispanic audiences remained steady.

Jazz saw significantly higher numbers of Hispanic, African-American and Asian audiences in 2012, pushing up overall attendance figures to 8.1 percent of American adults, from 7.8 percent in 2008. Jazz audiences had previously been on the decline.

Non-ballet dance audiences increased slightly, from 5.2 percent of adults in 2008 to 5.6 percent in 2012. Interest in this catch-all category was particularly strong among Hispanics and African-Americans, with modest gains in each demographic.

Americans who attended a Latin, Spanish or salsa music performance also climbed, from 4.9 percent in 2008 to 5.1 percent in 2012. Of that audience, African-Americans nearly doubled their attendance.

The NEA report comes after the 2010 U.S. Census revealed that America is rapidly diversifying, with a Hispanic population larger than ever and more children coming from multiple racial backgrounds. Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 90 percent of the growth in the U.S. population over the past decade, and Hispanics were by far the largest part of that increase.

The NEA survey found that TV and radio are the most popular forms of electronic media to access the arts (together used by 54 percent of adults), followed by mobile devices (38 percent), the Internet (32 percent) and CDs/DVDs (27 percent).

The NEA has published its Survey of Public Participation every five years since 1982. The report released on Thursday covers top-line data and the agency says a more detailed version is due out in early 2014 that will focus more on the reasons behind the numbers. Other categories beyond the visual and performing arts were measured such as reading habits and making and sharing art, be it creative writing or social dancing.

WEIGH IN: What do you think of the NEA data? Depressed? Encouraged? What should arts institutions do to build audiences for the future? Please share your thoughts and questions in the box below. Or you can Tweet us at @WQXR using the hashtag #NEASPPA. We may refer to your question during our live Greene Space event on Oct. 3.

(Chart courtesy of the NEA)


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Comments [11]

Andrew from New York suburbs

It isn't only the lack of arts education in the schools, lamentable though that is. A big part of the problem is that the WHOLE CULTURE deprecates the arts, and lowers them to the same level as the most limited forms of popular music (monotonous beat, no dynamic variation, frequently repetitive lyrics), dance (you just wriggle and shake, why learn to admire people who are graceful?), and the visual arts (cartooning vs. the whole artistic canon from the Ancient Egyptian through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Sung landscapes, Indian statuary, and so forth, on down to the Impressionists, Sargent, Picasso, de Kooning, and so on.) There is plenty of room for popular art (and always has been), but now the whole idea of higher, more sophisticated art forms has been mocked, and its associations with the better-educated and more well-to-do have been attacked as elitist, superfluous, colonialist (notice that few study Chinese painting and calligraphy, either), and even racist. These are literally barbarians at the gates, who would destroy rather than try to understand. Blame education, yes, but also the various social, economic, and political leaders who refuse to set a better example for the young. Yes, there has always been a lot of philistinism and middlebrow taste among the elites, but at least they set the example that there was something higher and richer which one should attempt to appreciate! Now the word is, "Don't waste your time with that garbage, Sonny."

Oct. 17 2013 03:48 PM

I only can speak from my limited observations, since I live in a rural mountain are and only get to New York City about a dozen ties per year.
I do however recall back in the 1960's when I was growing up in Manhattan how I would go to the Met, and sit in the Family Circle seats surrounded by old men in tweed jackets. I moved from New Your City in the mid 1970's and for twenty or more years did not attend any live performances of the Met in New York City. Now that I am retired I have had a Met subscription for the past ten years.
Thank God I can afford any seats in the house, but I still sit in Family Circle seats, because I feel the sound is better there.
Now I am the old man in the tweed jacket, however surprisingly I see many young singles and many young couples, seemingly College age at most of the ten or so performances per year that I attend at the Met.
I have no idea of the mix in the expensive Boxes or Orchestra seats but I am always pleased to see young couples attending the Met.
One thing that does concern me is the new push on HD locations throughout the U.S. While it may provided increased short term revenue, I wonder if these broadcasts are cannibalizing future audiences. I attended one HD transmission just to see what they felt like.
My conclusion is that they are without a soul.
When I attend my Met performances, and see the lights dim and the chandeliers rise to the ceiling I never fail to get chills throughout my body. You do not get this is a movie theater.
I just hope that the HD experience does not become the norm, because if it does I do not see the Met being able to keep its young audiences. It is a shame that so many people now can see an opera in a sterile environment in a movie theater and never experience the thrill of dimming lights, and a rising curtain in person.

Sep. 29 2013 01:24 PM

Sorry. That should be "there are lots" -- and I guess links don't work. Copy and paste if you'd like to see my blog.

Sep. 28 2013 04:31 AM

Re. "The arts are no longer affordable."

While I agree, in general, here in NYC there a lots of free and low-cost events available. Check out Bargemusic's Saturday afternoon free concerts. Don't miss the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts (music and silent films with live piano accompaniment).

Riverside Park has two more live concerts coming up on Sunday afternoons. Bryant Park has free piano most weekdays -- lunchtime hours.

In FIGJAM mode, here's a link to my blog:

Sep. 28 2013 04:25 AM
Diana from New York City

Has anyone looked at the increase in the cost of entering museums, attendance at concerts and ballets over the last few years? The Met, Moma and others are expecting visitors to pay $25 to enter. Ballet tickets, concerts, Broadway are all astronomical unless you attend off Broadway or join one of the many off Broadway small theater groups. Even places that you could depend on for dance groups at a reasonable price have moved up to over $45 a ticket. How can young people who barely have full-time jobs and families attend such events? The arts are no longer affordable.

Sep. 27 2013 06:06 PM
Les from Miami, Florida

I'd like to say that over the last 40 years or so there's been an avoidance in primary and secondary education from our country's inheritance of the riches of European culture generally and classical music and opera specifically, and what we're discussing now is the sad result. I steadfastly and tenaciously agree with the comments of David, Carol and HYH.

Sep. 27 2013 09:57 AM
HYH from Freeport, Long Island

Sad and cautiously optimistic. As has been stated here in many ways, I also think a big part of the problem is a lack of higher arts education (i include all classical music, theatre, visual, dance, jazz) in the schools where children can develop their own ear/taste. I grew up in Greenwich Village in the 60s and 70s and we had chorus, orchestra, band, jazz band, musical and spoken theatre, visual arts, etc. in public school. I grew up in a jazz household and in the music of the era (still love both) but being exposed to classical music and playing and singing in school hooked me and many of my friends. I very fondly remember the PBS shows geared to children and uninitiated (they were very exciting and made the music come alive in such a wonderful way) and corporate sponsored programs as mentioned. Classical music was much more mainstream then. But, i'm glad to see other forms of jazz and latino music emerge and more minorities participating/attending. Like with many things in life, perhaps the diversity will eventually open up to new audiences.......I sure hope so.

Sep. 26 2013 03:30 PM
Carol from New York City

The report does not make me happy! And I do not agree with Frank that arts groups should "start to think about audiences beyond the ones they've long catered to." "Those" people support the arts and always have. What arts groups and our communities as a whole are not doing is educating future audiences from the start....look at how many music programs have been dropped in schools in favor of sports and science. Science and music go hand in hand....why have one without the other? You bet that football and baseball are assuring their corporate organizations they will have a future, heck, they even are able to get the government to build them arenas paid for by the taxpayers and profited by the sports organizations themselves in both support and profit....that's real educating the masses at an early age! Corporations are also responsive to science's call for help by corporate funding for specific scientific projects. How about the arts? Remember Mobile's Masterpiece Theater? Texaco Opera Broadcast? Kraft Music Theater" The Firestone Hour? Just a few corporations who have removed their name as well as their support of the arts. We should have classical music programs in the schools as well as sports. Classical, yes, classical. Kids could then at least have a chance of a choice of what they listen to, instead of nothing but pop.

Sep. 26 2013 02:35 PM
David from Flushing

If we find that people ages 20 to 60 are missing from typical audiences, then the problem began about 40 years ago or c. 1970. NYC at that time seemed to be in a cultural upswing with a spiffy new Lincoln Center that was supposed to be the newest and best thing of its type. The early music movement was gathering stream and presented unfamiliar works given by new and groups smaller than modern orchestras. So went went wrong that turned off subsequent generations? My guess is nothing.

I have a feeling that the siren call of the Beatles and Rock simply overwhelmed the attraction that the classics once had. It seems to recall an old Betty Boop cartoon where a stodgy professor attempts to break up a college jazz performance only to become so captivated that he starts to jitterbug along with Betty. It seems that tastes have changed leaving classical music an orphan.

We have all heard of classical music being played as a way of preventing teens from loitering in malls and transportation terminals. I have even witnessed teens walking quickly through a space with their fingers in their ears rather than be exposed to classical music.

I take the rather pessimistic stance that classical music, as we know it, will likely be gone in 2030 when most of the audience is extinct. The recent collapse of music groups will likely only get worse and there is nothing really we can do about. Simply exposing people to something does not mean that they are going to like it.

Sep. 26 2013 01:41 PM
Frank from UWS

I think what this survey shows is that arts groups, if they want to continue to survive on a decent level, must start to think about audiences beyond the ones they've long catered to. It's not "scraping the bottom of the barrel," as another commenter suggested, to present art that appeals to a wider constituency. White European males have gotten a pretty fair shake for several hundred years in classical music; it's time now to show what else is out there.

Sep. 26 2013 12:56 PM

oh, so NOW they want me to attend? they won't survive on a eurocentric, self-congratulatory audience and it's time to scrape the bottom of the barrel? this article is a slap in the face. with a mace.

Sep. 26 2013 11:21 AM

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