by Communications Intern Ian Dahlman
Last week, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published the highlights of its 2012 Survey of Public Participation, a study which aimed to capture the myriad of ways Americans engaged with the arts over that year. The sixth iteration of a partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau—the first being in 1982, the last in 2008—the most recent survey boasts a sample size of 37,266 and so represents a phenomenal resource through which to see how people are connecting with the arts, as well as being helpful in developing policy initiatives. The NEA plans to make a comprehensive report available in 2014, but in the meantime there are some points of interest worth noting in the current highlights.
Media headlines have fixated upon an overall drop in arts attendance, especially among theatres and museums (see: Exhibit A; Exhibit B). For music, however, the only decline from 2008 figures appears to be very narrow: attendance of classical music events for respondents between the ages of 35 and 44. Otherwise, the survey reveals no real decline—overall attendance at classical, jazz, latin and opera music events held steady statistically, and a demographic breakdown shows an upswing in jazz attendance in all non-white demographic categories.
Even better, the survey is a treasure trove of new data, the fruits of the NEA’s consultation with artists, policymakers and researchers (including FMC) and the subsequent tweaking and expansion of the survey modules for 2012. For example, for the first time, the survey measured participation in music genres other than jazz, classical, opera and Latin; activities like attending hip hop concerts and listening to indie rock were considered “arts participation.” Some music SPPA highlights:
- 57% of adults used TV, radio or the internet to access music of any kind, and 34% of adults used a mobile device for the same purpose
- 31.6% of adults attended a live music performance in any genre, with the percentage rising to 40.6% for ages 18 to 24, and with no age cohort below 25% besides 75 and over (20%)
- 21.5% of adults e-mailed, posted or shared music; 3.3% shared music they had made
- 12% of adults play a musical instrument (alone or with another) and 8.7% sang; 2.2% practiced or performed classical music, 0.9% practiced or performed jazz, and 0.3% practiced or performed opera
- About half of the nation’s adults created, performed, or shared art of various types. Social dancing was the most popular form of art-making—31.5% danced socially
These findings represent a significant enlargement of the picture painted by the results of the SPPA, and the NEA deserves kudos for taking some major steps to update this survey instrument to capture changes in music production, consumption and interaction. These new questions will be even more powerful as subsequent studies allow the NEA to track changes over time, and as other researchers build on these results.
This accomplishment is notable because it exemplifies a broadening of thinking about how arts institutions can relate to different genres of music. Historically, prejudices regarding high and low art (ironic, considering jazz’s history), and more precisely, biases as to which types of music merit public funding or patronage, have shaped research inquiries and funding strategies in both the public and non-profit sectors. The notion that policy and research was not needed for “other” genres was perhaps buttressed by a belief that the commercial market could take care of those ‘other’ types of music. (There’s a parallel problem as well: jazz and classical artists and listeners are frequently radically underestimated and thus underserved by certain players in the commercial sector, which leads to these genres being further cordoned off from “popular music”—we’ll have more to say on this topic soon.)
Creating a sustainable ecosystem that works for the full diversity of musical traditions will require collaboration and cooperation between the public, nonprofit, and commercial sectors. To that end, we’ll be discussing a variety of innovative new non-profit music support models at the Future of Music Summit on October 27-28. Our panel will feature Bryce Merill, Senior Associate Director, Western States Art Federation (WESTAF)/ IMTour; Cavem Moetavation DJ, Community Activist; Rebecca Gates, musician, producer, curator activist; Dani Grant, Founder, SpokesBUZZ & Owner, Mishawaka Amphitheatre; and Storm Gloor, Professor of Music & Entertainment Studies at the University of Colorado-Denver. Register today!