Finally, a Promising Statistic for Arts Attendance

November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

SWEET SOUNDS: Most festivals offered musical acts, such Niamh Ní Charra, here at the 2009 Lowell (Mass.) Folk Festival.

When the 2008 NEA National Arts Participation Survey was released, arts administrators all over the country were dismayed by the findings. Arts participation had dropped in every category, and audience members were becoming older and less diverse. However, the NEA has recently released a new study focusing on outdoor arts festivals that delivers a little good news to arts-lovers and suggests new opportunities to be had. The NEA study found that outdoor arts festivals draw a crowd that is young, diverse, and vibrant.

This was the first survey of it’s kind by the NEA, titled "Live From Your Neighborhood: A National Study of Outdoor Festivals". The survey tracked more that 1,000 outdoor arts festivals held from April to October 2009. The study was prompted by a finding by the NEA in 2008 that 102 million people went to at least one arts and crafts fair or festival in 2008. The study found that 59% of the festivals were free, and of those that charged, 56% were had admission prices of under $15. 81% offered music, while 67% offered visual arts and crafts. 70% of the festivals employ an arts curator or programmer. In many small cities (those with populations under 250,000), outdoor arts festivals are an important part of the cultural scene. In such cities, the study found that these outdoor festivals accounted for 77% of overall arts attractions.

The most interesting findings in the survey centered around the attendees to these festivals. African Americans made up 16% of the attendees, while the 2008 participation survey only found 7% participating in arts activities. Hispanics also outpaced their participation percentage of 8%, making up 15% of the festival attendees.

This study really shows the shifting attitude of Americans and how they want to experience the arts. Today’s arts-lover wants to experience something different, something interactive, something flexible. Yes, we often do want to experience the arts in their most formal of forms – in a concert hall or a theater. However, most of the people I know find that kind of experience frankly boring, stuffy, and a little intimidating. Outdoor arts festivals are exciting and attractive to the normal American. An organization that has been ahead of the trend on this is ArtsWave, who has sponsored booths and stages at community festivals all around Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. In the past year they have been at CincyCinco, The Blast in West Chester, the Midwest Black Family Reunion, and the College Hill Fall Festival, just to name a few. Arts organizations around the country should take note and invest some time and money in having a presence at their local festivals!

Executive Summary of the NEA Study

Full Report – NEA Study

–Aaren

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