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National Arts Index Finds Arts at Lowest Point in 12 Years


by Jerome Weeks 25 Jan 2011

The National Arts Index — a kind of stock market index for American arts, both non-profit and commercial — collates 81 measurements of arts activity including attendance, how much spent, the number of degrees awarded, etc. The bad news about how the recession has cut into donations and how the arts’ “market share” has dwindled comes on the heels of news that conservative Republicans in the House intend to gut spending for the arts and public broadcasting.

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The advocacy group, Americans for the Arts, released on Monday its National Arts Index — a kind of stock market index for American arts, both non-profit and commercial. The rep collates 81 separate measurements of arts activity including attendance, how much Americans spend, the number of degrees awarded in the arts, etc. The news about how the recession has cut into donations (compared to other charitable giving) and how the arts’ “market share” has dwindled comes on the heels of last week’s news that conservative Republicans in the House intend to gut spending for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent overview of the index. Some disturbing highlights below the fold:

The latest attendance and fiscal results paint “a much more dire” picture of the arts than has been seen in the 12 years, said Randy Cohen, head researcher for Americans for the Arts, which consolidated data generated by government agencies, trade associations and nonprofit groups. The latest data available is from 2009.

For the nonprofit arts, chief among a raft of woes are declines in attendance, lower viewership for public television, a drop in donations relative to overall charitable giving and a smaller share of both government spending and the public’s discretionary dollars …

But the report also shows problems dating back long before the recent recession. In the nonprofit arts, inflation-adjusted revenues rose 21% from 1999 to 2007, but the number of organizations scrounging for a share skyrocketed 60% to 109,000 in 2008. After peaking at $35.8 billion, revenues fell $816 million in 2008.

Perhaps the worst news is that even as the nonprofit and commercial arts have grown in many respects over the last decade, they have continued to lose what the report labels “competitiveness” — the overall ability to command a “market share” of the public’s money and attention. By the study’s reckoning, the arts’ standing as a competitive force in American life fell nearly 17% from 1999 to 2008. Relying on partial data for 2009, the report estimates that next year’s index will show a record 4.6% additional drop in competitiveness.

Chart image outfront from Netizen News Brief

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