A preview of the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts results is up at the National Endowment for the Arts, and the news is not good. This national survey on arts participation in the United States is conducted in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years or so – and has been since 1982. Among the findings:
• Attendance at the most popular types of arts events – such as art museums and craft/visual arts festivals – saw notable declines. Even those most inclined to attend arts events in past years – college-educated adults – are participating less than before.
• Between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater, and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline. Ouch!
• Fewer adults are creating and performing art. Only the share of adults doing photography has increased.
Much of the decline can be linked to a bad economy (NEA research suggests that annual consumer spending on the performing arts drops 0.8 percent for every 1 percent decline in Gross Domestic Product). But there are also indicators of more systemic shifts.
I have a theory that the decline of arts education in primary schools has something to do with it, too.