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Survey indicates drop in attendance at concerts, museums

By Hillel Italie
Associated Press / December 10, 2009

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NEW YORK - If you haven’t gone to a movie, jazz concert, or art exhibit in recent years, you are in steadily growing company.

A new study from the National Endowment for the Arts finds a notable decline in theater, museum, and concert attendance and other “benchmark’’ cultural activities between 2002 and 2008 for adults 18 and older, and a sharper fall from 25 years ago. The drop was for virtually all art forms and for virtually all age groups and levels of education.

The NEA’s senior deputy chairwoman, Joan Shigekawa, listed a few possible reasons: the rise of the Internet, less free time, and cuts in arts classes.

“These numbers definitely represent a challenge,’’ Shigekawa said.

Released today, the NEA’s 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts is the sixth such report to come out since 1982, when 39 percent of adults attended a “benchmark arts activity’’ at least once in the previous year. The percentage peaked at 41 percent in 1992, just as the Internet was taking off, and dropped to 34.6 percent in 2008.

Between 2002 and 2008, percentages fell for moviegoing from 60 to 53.3, for jazz from 10.8 to 7.8, and for museums/galleries from 26.5 to 22.7.

Other categories with lower attendance include ballet, opera, musical and nonmusical theater, and art/crafts fairs and festivals.

The reading of “literature,’’ defined as “plays/poetry/novels/short stories,’’ was an exception, rising from 46.7 to 50.2, an increase Sunil Iyengar, NEA research director, credits, at least in part, to the growth of online reading. But the Internet did not stop a decline, from 56 percent to 54 percent, of reading of any kind that was not required by school or work.

Jesse Rosen, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, was concerned by the attendance numbers but encouraged by the substantial number of adults, estimated by the NEA at around 40 million, who watched or listened to classical music through electronic media, including online.

“There is a fundamental change happening in our lives. There’s a sense that we have an old way of defining participating in the arts and that the public is redefining what participation means,’’ Rosen said.

“The challenge for us is to see where the public is and engage with them and adapt.’’