News and Features

There Are Far, Far More of You Art Appreciators Out There Than We Thought

Back in 2008, the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts concluded that one in four Americans are engaged directly in the arts in some “benchmark” fashion (like attending a dance event). But according to the NYTimes, the NEA took another look at its data. The data hasn’t changed; they just ‘mined’ it differently with their computers, re-defining ‘participation’ in the arts to include such activities as engaging with the arts through digital devices (watching an online video of a dance event, for example).

All of a sudden, three out of four Americans are seen to be engaged with the arts. It’s a radical re-interpretation, but beyond that re-appraisal, the data mining produced quite a few revealing stats, such as:

– The highest rates of participation via electronic media–including mobile devices and the Internet–were reported for classical music (18%), Latin music (15%), and programs about the visual and literary arts (15% each). …

– Declines in childhood arts education from 1982 to 2008 are much higher among African American and Hispanic children than among white children. Which is, sadly, what one might expect. But the difference is huge: In that timeframe, there was a 49% drop for African Americans, and a 40% drop for Hispanic children, compared with a statistically insignificant decline for white children.

– Even more worrisome: We’re losing our omnivores. Older adults (born in 1955 or earlier) are more likely than younger Americans to be “cultural omnivores,” people who attend a variety of arts events, in different art forms and settings. As these generations have aged, there have been fewer cultural omnivores; furthermore, they are now attending arts events less frequently. It is estimated that 82% of the decline in total benchmark arts activities attended between 2002 and 2008 stems from this combination.