Sunday, June 08, 2008

Artistic performances and the digital distractions that surround modern consumers

Countless recent studies have coalesced around the same conclusion: Participation in the performing arts is changing drastically and, in many cases, declining. Thus it says an article by John Wenzel in the Denver Post entitled "How can Arts survive in increasingly digital world?".

Fewer people are going to operas, plays and dance performances, according to the federal government's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. That decline is even more pronounced among 18- to 24-year-olds.

A 2002 SPPA study found alarming drops in ballet attendance, for example, with a 40 percent decline between 1992 and 2002 for 18- to 24-year- olds. That compares with a 19 percent drop among the overall population. Neither is positive, but the study failed to measure whether young people were more active in other art forms, like digital-music composition, video game design or rock show attendance.

Most arts organizations agree that a strong participatory culture is necessary to keep them relevant, but the "attendance-only" definition of "participatory" may be in need of an update.

And, no, adding a robot conductor to your symphony won't do the trick.

The performing arts cannot simply be a gimmick or diversion, said Sandra Gibson, president of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. They need to be a part of our daily lives, both by appreciating them and getting involved.

"We need to be in the public psyche and at the dinner table conversation, not plugged-in and plugged-out," said Gibson. "I happen to think that art and culture are rights of citizens, but instead of setting the climate for debate in our field, we're reacting to the position we've been put in."

The Denver Post presents success stories to balance the somewhat gloomy overall picture.

Found the lead to the story at an essential online stop called


Kermit Poling said...

Not sure about the "countless" studies. There are studies that demonstrate exactly the opposite result (the Knight Foundation comes to mind.) Certainly the sold out performances by the SSO, the Opera and even the Ballet in Shreveport this last season contradict this trend. South Arkansas Symphony had larger audiences this year than last also. As for 18-24 year olds - this was a worrisome problem for orchestras who desparately tried to change their programmning in the 80s and 90s to counteract the potential loss of audiences. And what did they find? That 18-24 year olds mature and as they age their tastes tend to change and they begin to listen more to symphonic and operatic music. Those orchestras who stayed with their core audiences mostly ended up the most successful. We should, of course, always work to reach new audiences but the naysayers have been proven wrong again and again. All they provide is fuel for those folks who seem to have nothing better to do than desecrate their artistic institutions. I, for one, am always inspired by new audiences who, once exposed, truly enjoy what we have to offer. The trick is reaching out to begin with. This blog is one wonderful way to do just that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sandra Gibson, the arts need to be a part of our daily lives. The best way to accomplish that is to start educating children early so that it becomes a part of them. Doing away with arts education will ensure that there will be no future audiences to support the arts eventually.

People often live up to what's expected of them. If you continually tell 18-24 year olds that their peers have no interest in the arts, they will begin to believe that it's not what they're supposed to do.

trudeau said...

I certainly regret giving credence to this pop worry by posting it.

A goodly percentage of my students, 14 year-olds, have been attending symphony and opera concerts this year. When I give a couple of bonus points for attending drama and music events, everyone's happy and participation increases.

I think Centenary College does an unusually good job of encouraging students to attend arts events.

Anonymous said...

I have often thought it a worthwhile project to poll the Shreveport Symphony audience to find out 1. Why they come to the concerts (yes, it should be obvious but I bet some of the responses would be enlightening). 2. In what way is music part of their lives. 3. Do they now or have they ever participated in a music ensemble. I notice that many of the young people who are regulars at symphony concerts are musicians in their school ensembles. While they appreciate the music they hear, they also identify with the skill of the musicians making the music. Guitar Hero is an immensely popular game because the player participates in the music making (maybe we need Symphony Orchestra Hero). I think the most loyal consumers of the arts are those who have invested themselves through active, physical participation in music performance.

Anonymous said...

About a year ago on this blog I asked, almost rhetorically, what the relationship is between art and money.

One person replied, more less saying that something has to cover the SWEPCO bill.

I continue to believe that communities either "get it" when it comes to publicly accessible "arts" or they don't. Shreveport falls into the latter, by any measure founded in fiscal reality.

And bear in mind, that's even taking into account the massive SRAC budget, which I think is about $3m per annum, spent on sponsorships, internships, underwriting, payrolls, etc. With that plus what's left of corporate donations, if Shreveport is still coming up short then it's a sign of priorities simply changing. Times are tough all over, and if "artistic institutions" have to adjust, then maybe that's just how things are supposed to be.

Whether or not the DigitiNation is why support is shifting is beyond me. My personal sense is that the audience cadres for some of those "institutions" is moving away.

But then who can't agree with the comment above, that when a ten year old can BE a guitar hero, why go listen to some?

Technology or money? Chicken and egg.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 3,

The ten-year old will go to see the real thing in action, he'll love the experience, and he'll go back for more.