Last June, the NEA released sobering data from their 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Christmas break was the first chance I’ve had to give the survey a thorough examination.
The new data indicates that the trends established over the last quarter century remain in place. Unfortunately, the percentage of U. S. adults connecting with any and all of the living arts continues its gradual but steady decline.
Being a glass half-full kind of guy, I can't help but mention that there is some significant good news for theatre lovers. National attendance may be trending downwards in theatre just as it is in every art form. But when examining the rate of decline in theatre attendance, and the aging of the national theatre audience, it's clear that professional theatre continues to be America's most popular performing arts discipline for audiences both old and young.
2008 Survey results include the following questions and answers.
How do our nation’s cultural activities rank in popularity?
What follows are the percentages of the national population that connected with each of the following cultural pursuits at least once during 2008:
Literature - 50.2%
Parks / Historic Buildings - 24.9%
Arts & Crafts Fairs / Art Festivals - 24.5%
Art Museums / Galleries - 22.7%
Outdoor Performing Arts Festivals - 20.8%
Musical Theatre - 16.7%
Straight Plays - 9.4%
Classical Music - 9.3%
Jazz - 7.8%
Dance (not ballet) - 5.2%
Latin / Spanish Music - 4.9%
Ballet - 2.9%
Opera - 2.1%
How much has cultural participation increased or declined (in terms of percentage of population participating) since the NEA began collecting data about a quarter century ago?
Here are the percentages of growth or decline in popularity of each cultural pursuit, measured over the last 26 years, 1982 – 2008:
Art Museums / Galleries - 2.7% growth
Musical Theatre - 10.2% decline
Literature - 11.8% decline
Jazz - 18.8% decline
Straight Plays - 21.0% decline
Classical Music - 28.5% decline
Opera - 30.0% decline
Ballet - 31.0% decline
Parks / Historic Buildings - 32.7% decline
Arts & Crafts Fairs / Art Festivals - 37.2% decline
(Older data is not available for Latin / Spanish Music, Dance (not ballet), and Outdoor Performing Arts Festivals.)
Which performing arts events are most enjoyed by audience members in each age group?
Among 18 to 24 year olds, 14.5% attended musicals in 2008, 8.2% attended plays, 6.9% attended symphonic concerts, 2.5% attended ballet performances, and 1.2% attended the opera.
Among 25 to 34 year olds, 16% attended musicals, 9.2% attended plays, 7.0% attended the symphony, 2.3% attended the ballet, and 1.7% attended the opera.
Among 35 to 44 year olds, 18.2% attended musicals, 8.9% attended plays, 8.9% attended the symphony, 3.4% attended the ballet, and 2.5% attended the opera.
Among 45 to 54 year olds, 17.4% attended musicals, 8.7% attended plays, 10.2% attended the symphony, 3.2% attended the ballet, and 2.4% attended the opera.
Among 55 to 64 year olds, 19.5% attended musicals, 12.3 % attended plays, 11.6% attended the symphony, 3.1% attended the ballet, and 2.4% attended the opera.
Among 65 to 74 year olds, 18.0% attended musicals, 11.0% attended plays, 12.2% attended the symphony, 4.3% attended the ballet, and 2.9% attended the opera.
Among those 75 or older, 10% attended musicals, 7.4% attended plays, 9.7% attended the symphony, 1.4% attended the ballet, and 1.8% attended the opera.
Those who speculate on the reasons for the continuing decline in arts attendance 1982 - 2008 suggest the following prioritized list:
- decline in the national average of hours available for leisure activities;
- growth of competing leisure activities such as the Internet, home gaming systems, movies via Netflix and pay-per-view, and bar and restaurant activity;
- decline in arts education in elementary, middle, high school and university education; and
- declining media coverage of the living arts.
All of us at Barksdale and Theatre IV have been working hard to buck the trends. Last fall I posted a blog entry about our increased attendance during the summer of 2009 (In the Good Old Summertime, Sept 3, 2009). Following the close of The 25th Anniversary Putnam County Spelling Bee on January 17, I’ll report on the attendance patterns established during our fall and holiday seasons.
Till then, I hope you’ll join our nation’s largest and youngest audience by buying a ticket to the THEATRE!