Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Does It Mean to Have an Arts Experience?

The NEA’s recently released research, Arts Participation 2008, begins with a quote from John Updike:

“Whatever art offered the men and women of previous eras, what it offers our own, it seems to me, is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.” (http://www.arts.gov/news/news09/SPPA-highlights.html)
Updike’s quote proves my point that people have been blogging for eternity, and we simply have a new medium for dissemination.

And so it is appropriate that my “first” blog post consider the facts of what we didn’t need facts to tell us. Adult attendance at arts events declined for virtually all art forms in 2008. Wait! It must have been the economy. Nope. Participation rates have been trending down over the past six years.

Admittedly, the NEA is still trying to figure out how to measure and compare historical (some would say hysterical) stats with new media. But here’s a fact we cannot avoid: age ranges 45-54, a large component of arts audiences, showed the deepest decline in attendance for most arts events, ranging from -29% to -43%.

The only relevance of this study is opportunity. I will use these stats to justify arts education policy. If you don’t get it early you are far less likely to get it later, and just what does that do for our creative economy? A colleague of mine plans to use the stats to encourage (did I say push?) research and development of new arts applications and technology.

But perhaps the most beneficial use of the NEA study is to tie these numbers like a string to the back of our heads and pull slowly up, out of the sand, to find that room to breath. It’s virtually impossible to live expectantly, think creatively, and lead in innovation if our chins are resting not so comfortably on our chests. When was the last time you had a conversation centered on the study’s fundamental question, “What does it mean to have an arts experience?” There’s no time like the present and no place better than responding here and now.

Karen Wells
Executive Director