NEA survey: good news - bad news
Whenever I express my concerns about the declining audiences in classical music, people rush to inform me that I’m quite wrong and there’s more interest than ever before. The NEA’s latest figures on participation in the arts, released Thursday, prove that we’re both right.
A survey released in 2008 indicated a steep decline in audience participation in the performing arts. But it turns out the data paints quite a different picture when analyzed differently -- when the definition of "participation" is expanded to include more than simply buying a ticket to something. The 2008 survey told us that only some 35% of adults attended a performance or visited a museum; but the new survey pulls the lens back and realizes that 75% of adults interacted with art in some form via their computers.
And classical music is leading the way: 18% of that audience participated in classical music, more than any other kind of art (Latin music, visual and literary arts followed: 15% each). That’s notable because classical and Latin are thought of as niche genres. This is the best concrete demonstration I’ve seen of the long-tail theory of the Internet, the idea that the Internet enables people with specialized interests to find and cultivate their interests more easily.
This is really great news. It proves that there is, indeed, a healthy interest in classical music. As I’ve said all along, the field itself isn’t endangered: the music will prevail, and people will continue to find new ways to discover it, hear it, make it.
But it also proves that the old institutions are being left in the dust. Classical music has the highest participation of any art, and ticket sales are still tanking (as the same data demonstrates)? This is more evidence, say I, that orchestras in particular are going to have to continue to work to expand their role if they want to stay alive in an era that loves classical music more than ever but is happy to pursue it without them.
| February 25, 2011; 10:24 AM ET
Categories: news, random musings
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