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Arts attendance tied to creativity, education

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With nearly three in four Americans participating in arts activities, arts groups that want to increase attendance should focus on boosting arts-creation activities, childhood arts education, and the use of electronic media, a new report says.

Arts groups also should us broader metrics to track arts participation, and rethink the perception that audiences are aging, says the new Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, based on three reports prepared for the National Endowment for the Arts based on 2008 data.

Nearly 75 percent of adults attended arts activities, created art or engaged with art through electronic media, the report says.

Attendance at traditional arts activities such as plays, jazz or classical music concerts, or visits to museums, which has been the focus of previous findings of the survey for nearly 30 years, has declined.

But a fuller picture of arts participation is needed, one that looks at a broader range of arts offerings, arts participation through electronic media, and personal arts creation, the report says.

“We are encouraging researchers to ask new questions about how Americans engage with the arts, and the new analysis can help arts organizations reach audiences through new venues, new delivery systems, and new approaches, Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, says in a statement.

The report finds a “strong relationship” between arts attendance and creation, suggesting that “successful audience-building strategies may consist of programs that combine art-making and personal performance with live attendance opportunities.”

Thirty percent of American adults, or 67 million people, for example, both attended arts activities, and created or performed art, the report says, down from 42 percent in 1992, while the percentage of adults who only attend or only create art has stayed flat for years.

An American adult who creates or performs art is nearly six times more likely to attend arts events than one who does not create or perform art.

Childhood arts education can be a stronger driver of arts participation than age, race or socioeconomic status, with long-term declines in childhood arts education having serious implications for the future of arts participation, the report says.

In addition to attending arts events at higher rates, for example, those who received arts education as a child are more likely to create or perform art, engage in the arts through media, and take art classes as an adult.

“While this research is encouraging, it also confirms that arts education as a child is an important factor in arts participation as an adult,” Landesman says. “Arts education is a key way to promote more arts participation.”

Age and one’s generation generally are weak predictors of arts participation, with education levels influencing rates of cultural participation much more than the year a person was born, the report says.

Adults born in 1955 or earlier, for example, are more likely than younger Americans to attend a variety of arts events, in different forms and settings.

But as those generations have gotten older, fewer people are attending a broad range of events, and they are attending those events less frequently.

The study attributes to those factors an estimated 82 percent of the decline in attendance at traditional arts activities between 2002 and 2008.

While arts consumers who attend a variety of events may be declining, the report says, a “more personal, flexible approach to cultural engagement” is a growing trend, and age and generation may be less important in audience outreach than previously thought.

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