The NEA has released its full research report, 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (that link will take you to a downloadable PDF — but stock your printer, it’s more than 100 pages long). And earlier today, they streamed a live webcast discussing the results (the webcast will be made available online next week).
This is the sixth national survey since 1982, and as one might expect, the trends in public arts attendance are generally sucky: “The percentage of adults attending at least one benchmark arts activity declined from 39 percent in 2002 to less than 35 percent in 2008.” The average age of attendees is getting older, but what’s really sad is that 45-54-year-olds and college-educated adults — typically, your core Stage Door Johnnies and Janes, your lifelong museum inhabitants — “showed the steepest declines in attendance for arts events.” Oddly, jazz concert attendees have traditionally been younger on average than others — I’ve never been able to figure that one out — but that ain’t true anymore. Both jazz and classical concert attendance “have declined the most, relative to other art forms.” And this blizzard of downward-tending stats extends to arts participation in other forms as well — creating, performing, taking classes.
One little snow flake of good news: The “sole exception” to the cultural fact that more Americans watch recordings or broadcasts of performances than actually go out to see anything is: live theater. More Americans attend live plays or musicals than watch them on TV — although I would argue that’s because there’s hardly ever any play or musical on TV to watch, for Pete’s sake.
One big villain that the survey summary suggests: The past decade’s complete decimation of arts education in schools. Since 1982, the share of 18-24-year-olds who’ve had any music education at all has dropped by more than a third. For visual arts, it’s even worse — it has nearly halved — although, curiously, there are distinct regional differences (Northeastern and South Central states fare better).
For some of this drastic decline, you may thank No Child Left Behind, which put so much emphasis (and funding rewards) on math, reading and science test scores that pretty much everything else has been sacrificed in the schools. Ask any arts teacher in a Texas school what happens when the TAKS test comes around.