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NEA Study Finds a Drop in Arts Attendance

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A number of Seattle dance organizations (including the ballet) have established semi-social events that go along with performances -- they are working every angle they can find.

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A number of Seattle dance organizations (including the ballet) have established semi-social events that go along with performances -- they are working every angle they can find.

I think Atlanta Ballet sometimes has dinner/social events keyed to ballet performances.

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I'm not going to assume that the companion-less would-be audience is necessarily young and single. The study suggests that among young adults, the unmarried and childless are the likeliest to attend arts events, which stands to reason since they probably have the most free time. It could be that some people are faced with an unwilling partner, and since women constitute a larger chunk of the arts audience across the board, I'm going to assume that they find themselves in this position more often than men.

Just the other day I gave a spare opera ticket to an older married woman. She was thrilled to go and loved it. She explained that she attends dramatic theater with her husband, but that he can't abide opera, so she never goes because, you guessed it, she has no opera buddy.

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I have been attending opera much longer than ballet, and I used to be the "young person" (the hope for the future, I guess) that someone used to say, "Nice to see a young person at the opera!" That was in my 20s and 30s (half Asian so look even younger than I am, so even in my 30s I looked 20something). Now at 47 with salt and pepper hair nobody makes that comment anymore! LOL

But my generation of friends will ask me to take them to an opera or ballet once and for them it is an event, "Oh, I'm going to the opera with my opera friend tonight!" and they love it as a one time event, but they never seem to want to go again despite saying how much they loved it. Yet they will spend HUNDREDS for a ticket to see Madonna or U2 or some other pop act. I just think that the U.S. culture is geared so heavily toward pop culture. I have given up trying to convert friends into opera or ballet lovers. I just go by myself (and even leave the partner home most times).

Anyway, from my personal experience among my friends I can't seem to find many people all that interested in ballet and opera. And that is why many of us come to forums like this to actually talk to people who hold similar interests. I really don't know why so many Americans have zero interest in opera and ballet nowadays. It is sad.

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Unlike Russia, ballet and opera in America is seen as for only elite, rich, white people. And it is perpetuated by many patrons who attend. That's why it's unsurprising that people would rather go to a pop concert or the movies. It's seen as for everybody verses the few. Americans aren't that exposed to the arts like ballet and opera from a young age either, whether in school or in general media. In Russia you see numerous ballet and opera programs on television every year. We're lucky to get a DVD release every decade. PBS used to be the lone network in the U.S. to show ballet in the 70's and 80's but they've since stopped. Shocking this is not.

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It's important to remember that these most recent reports released by the NEA are based primarily on data from the General Social Survey, and not the NEA's own Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. The latter specifically gauges attendance at the "benchmark" events such as plays, operas, ballets, jazz or classical music concerts. The former does not ask about such details, and rock concerts could easily fall within the "live performance" category of the survey. (That's why the last SPPA said that 37% of adults attended a live performance, while the GSS said that 45.6% did.) It was also noted that between the last two SPPAs, the biggest drops in attendance were found among those who attended musicals and plays, which perhaps have a less "elitist" reputation than ballet or opera.

When respondents of the GSS were asked why they didn't attend live performances, I doubt that one of the answers suggested was "because it's for rich, old white people." But when asked why they didn't go even when they were interested, these were the most popular answers.

Could not find the time, including due to work 47.3%
Costs too much 38.3%
Too difficult to get there, including difficulty due to physical handicap or illness 36.6%
Could not find anyone to go with 21.6%
Did not want to go to that location 9.0%
Programs or events were not of interest 6.6%
(As for the "not enough time" answer, the report notes that 95% of Americans engage in leisure activities daily, for an average of 5 hours per day. But I know from experience that watching television in a half-comatose state requires less effort than spending 3-4 hours at the opera house.)
And this is why people attend live performances and/or art exhibits:
Socializing with family or friends 72.9%
Seeing an exhibit or performance at this particular location 65.8%
Gaining knowledge or learning something new 64.1%
Experiencing high-quality art 63.2%
Supporting a community organization or community event 51.2%
Seeing a specific individual artist’s performance or artworks 41.2%
Low cost or free admission 40.9%
Celebrating or learning about one’s own cultural heritage 24.2%

Unfortunately, the data doesn't tell us why respondents do not go specifically to the ballet or the Shakespeare festival or a rap concert. But perhaps it can give arts organizations something more precise than our usual guesses and assumptions to study, including how motivations and perceived barriers differ across racial groups, because they do.

The most common barriers for interested non-attendees also differed across racial and ethnic minority groups. The most significant departures from the barriers impacting the interested non-attendee group overall were among Black or African American and Mexican-American populations.

Among adults who did not attend an exhibit despite being interested, 60 percent of individuals in these two racial/ethnic groups mentioned that the exhibit location was too difficult to get to, versus only 40 percent of U.S. adults from other racial/ethnic groups.

Finally, 34 percent of non-Hispanic Black or African Americans and Mexican-Americans indicated that their inability to find someone to go with was a barrier to attending the arts, twice the rate observed (17 percent) among interested non-attendees from other racial or ethnic groups.

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But I know from experience that watching television in a half-comatose state requires less effort than spending 3-4 hours at the opera house.)

Indeed!

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But I know from experience that watching television in a half-comatose state requires less effort than spending 3-4 hours at the opera house.)

Indeed!

Yes, try a Ring Cycle. LOL You feel like you've run a marathon after the week is over even though you have simply sat in a seat for 4 long operas! Glorious music, but I think it is trying even for the most devoted art lover!!!! I keep saying to people, "Most artists suffer for their art. Wagner wanted the audience to suffer too and have to hold their pee!" LOL

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Another thought: arts programs have been progressively cut in schools, from elementary through to university programs. They are virtually always the first programs to be cut when budgets are tight. Perhaps the lessened attendance at arts events is a logical consequence of this policy. People don't grow up having exposure to, and positive experiences of, various forms of art, hence, are not interested in attending arts events later.

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Arts organizations have been trying for over a decade to capture the twenty- and thirty-something markets by creating social groups, so that people meet other people and socialize around the performance, with dinners, wine and cheese, sometimes lectures, etc. The dance-on-stage post opening night parties at PNB are actively marketed to younger people. I was 35 when the cut-off was 36, 41 when the cut-off was 40, and it never occurred to me that Santa Fe Opera's was 45 -- I was still 45! -- or I could have gone to the gathering the last time I was there, instead of speaking to no one for five days except the wait staff at restaurants and ticket sellers at museums. Seattle Symphony toyed with the idea of having a group for people in their 40's and over, which would have cornered the market of older singles or people with uninterested partners and who don't want to go alone. I've seen informal groups, like in Vancouver, the people who gather in the lobby after the performance of Met in HD broadcasts to have some lunch and discuss the opera.

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I could have gone to the gathering the last time I was there, instead of speaking to no one for five days except the wait staff at restaurants and ticket sellers at museums.

crying.gif Oh no! It goes to show you that arts organizations ought to have socializing opportunities for people of all ages, genders and Facebook statuses.

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I could have gone to the gathering the last time I was there, instead of speaking to no one for five days except the wait staff at restaurants and ticket sellers at museums.

crying.gif Oh no! It goes to show you that arts organizations ought to have socializing opportunities for people of all ages, genders and Facebook statuses.

It's an interesting development. I was thinking, during Nutcracker season, that the total package in the lobby was so elaborate you could almost forget there was a ballet in the theater. It was a very attractive event for someone who is looking for entertainment, but the trick is keeping the ancillary stuff in perspective so that you can, in essence run two different events at the same time -- a social event with dance at the middle for one cohort, and a ballet on its own for people that aren't looking for the social stuff.

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The Met Opera tried out a singles night for a few years, but I think it has been ditched. During intermission they set aside an area of the Grand Tier for cocktails for the participants in the singles event. It was also a way for them to sell a block of tickets to performances that were not otherwise selling well.

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Timing is also important. It was noted that during the livestream of Paquita from Munich a child in the audience began to cry just as the ballerina was performing her crowning variation. That performance had been preceded by a special introduction especially for children. But if you add 45-60 minutes to a child's theater-going experience, will he last through the whole ballet?

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Timing is also important. It was noted that during the livestream of Paquita from Munich a child in the audience began to cry just as the ballerina was performing her crowning variation. That performance had been preceded by a special introduction especially for children. But if you add 45-60 minutes to a child's theater-going experience, will he last through the whole ballet?

Approximately 10 years ago NYCB attempted to institute child matinees on Saturdays, and planned to cut the length of the normal program by omitting portions of a ballet, or reducing the number of rep ballets on the program. There was a major backlash from subscribers who threatened to cancel their Sat matinee subscriptions. NYCB quickly backtracked and dumped the child matinee idea. I think people still bring screaming, misbehaving kids regardless of the length of the show or whether the content is appropriate for kids. It can be cheaper to bring a kid than to find and pay for a babysitter. Most parents have no concerns about disturbing everyone else in the theater.

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I remember that Alina Cojocaru's first performance with ABT coincided with a family matinee. A lot of balletomanes who'd come to see her were unhappy with the elevated noise levels in the theater, as little ones turned to their parents asking for explanations about what was taking place on stage. But given that ABT had actively encouraged people to bring their children that day, this was to be expected. Obviously, it would be better to keep highly anticipated guest appearances and family afternoons separate, and the current ABT Kids format is a much better idea.

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Programming for children is almost an entirely different category in the arts making/presenting world -- there are a sizeable number of theaters and other organizations (growing all the time) that specialize in that work. The trick is help those audiences make a transition from child-specific events to general audience work. In Seattle we have a couple of very successful children's theaters, but their target age tops out around the end of middle school. At that point, some families just start going to another local theater, but some other families haven't really internalized the theater habit, and so if they aren't seeing something specifically "family," they aren't going. I haven't investigated what kind of promotional outreach the regular presenters make to those rising kid theater patrons, so I don't know what their actual capture might be.

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Programming for children is almost an entirely different category in the arts making/presenting world -- there are a sizeable number of theaters and other organizations (growing all the time) that specialize in that work.

New York Theater Ballet has carved out its own NYC niche in this area with its Once Upon a Ballet series. I think they used to take these on the road too, but I'm not sure if they tour them anymore.

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But when asked why they didn't go even when they were interested, these were the most popular answers.

Could not find anyone to go with 21.6%

I acquired a taste for attending performances by myself when I started doing a lot of business traveling. Sitting alone at a performance beats sitting alone in your hotel room any day of the week. (It also arguably beats eating yet another dinner with the colleagues you just spent 14 hours with in some conference room somewhere.)

I could never figure out why arts organizations and venues don't make more of an effort to lure in solo business travelers who need more in their evening than room service.

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crying.gif Oh no! It goes to show you that arts organizations ought to have socializing opportunities for people of all ages, genders and Facebook statuses.

I wasn't entirely alone: I had internet access and Ballet Alert! people to talk to :)

I stayed in an apartment hotel, and didn't have daily interactions with staff. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that I hadn't spoken to many humans on the trip. I go to things alone happily, maybe too happily.

I, too, look for arts things to attend when I'm traveling for work. I get cranky when I have to do work-related socializing at night when I'd rather be at a local arts event.

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I could never figure out why arts organizations and venues don't make more of an effort to lure in solo business travelers who need more in their evening than room service.

Yes, right now everything depends on the individual initiative of the traveler. How could this outreach be achieved practically? It would be fairly easy to keep track of major conferences, conventions and trade shows coming to town, though I imagine that organizers would charge to include a "what to do while in X-ville" listing with registration materials. Naturally arts organizations should be providing large hotels with listings about what they're doing each and every week, but again, apart from money, I don't know what incentive the hotels would have to share the information with their guests.

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Naturally arts organizations should be providing large hotels with listings about what they're doing each and every week, but again, apart from money, I don't know what incentive the hotels would have to share the information with their guests.

Service is the standard incentive with this, especially for business travelers. Hotels that are trying to develop repeat business need to distinguish themselves in some way with their possible clients, and these kind of concierge services are a popular way to do it.

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