Viewing a Rose without a Scent …

Yesterday, the LA Times’ blogged about   ill-fated new released data  from a National Endowment for the Arts survey  reporting the number of Americans attending arts & cultural events in 2008.  Well peeps..  as I was feared  to forecast – My guess was true — Attendance  has sunk to its lowest level since 1982. — and in addition….. Surprisingly, the largest drop in arts consumption comes from people ages 45 to 54, which has traditionally been the most dependable group of arts participants.

The NEA report said that college-educated Americans – including those with graduate degrees – are cutting back on their arts consumption across all forms. Ballet attendance by this demographic has dropped by 43% since 1982. One optimistic note in Monday’s report is the “substantial number” of people going online to experience the arts. Of the adults who went online for any purpose in 2008, approximately 40% used the Internet to view, listen to, download or post artworks or performances. About 30% of adults who use the Internet do so to consume music, theater or dance performances at least once a week. More than 20% go online to view paintings, sculpture, or photography at least once a week.  So — Is sitting alone at home in front of a computer screen while watching a you tube dance performance really the same as experiencing the same performance in a theater with other audience members? What do you think?  I asked some of my Face book friends their opinions. 

 I think it’s the state of the economy rather than computers that fueled that statistic.  Cherie Noble writes  – Its seems many of my face book friends are no longer approaching their peak earning years – instead, they’ve been downsized and will be working at a lower-paying job forever. So they’ve got much less time and/or money to spend on the arts;    Amy & Michael Tevlin of Cincinnati   We think it isn’t the internet that has caused this, but when people are barely  making their mortgage payments and getting enough groceries, their entertainment  budget goes way down. Even Michael and I as professionals in the ballet field  have had to cut way back on our own arts attendance. It is sad because art is  what fields all of our souls, especially during times of struggle. I am trying  to figure out how to offer some low cost/free events in the new year for folks.  I know what I do is worth paying for but there are so many people now who can’t  pay for it regardless of its merit.   

I am sad to say — At a time when governments at all levels are making tough budget choices, this study sends an important message—that support for the arts are worth supporting in prosperous times but hard to justify when the economy is struggling

The study, which was organized in partnership with the Census Bureau, noted that the downward trend was at least partially due to the deteriorating economic conditions of the last two years, including the rise in the price of gasoline and an overall drop in consumer spending. But it also emphasized larger shifts in the American public’s relationship to the arts. The report, which uses data collected in 2008, said that the share of adults who attended at least one arts event was 34.6%, down from 39.4% in 2002, which was the last time the survey was conducted. Moreover, those who did attend arts events did so less frequently. The report found that the average number of attendances per individual was 5.2 in 2008, down from 6.1 in 2002.especially during times of struggle.Watching dance on a screen should not be seen as a potential substitute for live dance, but it should be seen as an experience with its own merits and own disadvantages. If anything, the potential to expose larger audiences to dance will do just that, and the same consumers who might be watching something on a large (or small) screen will be that much more likely to want to consume the live product. As real distribution opportunities are made available for the field, and dance is no longer confined, as it is today, to what can best be described as a digital ghetto (bad clips, low quality, hard to find), the resulting higher level of audience engagement will only have positive benefits for the live art. , I will be interested to see how Internet usage and actual attendance shake out in the next few years. On the one hand, the Internet is a barely tapped resource that has much promise. On the other hand, there is the “novelty” factor to consider. Two years ago, everyone was ready to write off movie theaters in favor of home entertainment/Internet and yet it hasn’t quite panned out like that in the wake of a devastating recession

My high school/college  dancing pal  Karen Ziemba (Tony Award Winner Best Actress in a Musical) —   Explains what’s great about live theatre -.

I’m reminded every day how fortunate I am to make a living in the theater, and also to be a link from the traditions of Broadway’s golden age to the theater’s future. In musical theater, you spend your life honing special skills. Singing, dancing and clowning won’t get you a job in corporate America. Even in movies or television, except in rare cases, you only use a sliver of those skills. Live theater is one of the last traditions that’s handed down from person to person. A young cast member in Curtains told me that watching me play Roxie in Chicago made her think, “I want to do what she’s doing!” Now we’re sharing the stage every night at the Hirschfeld Theatre, and I’m watching her grow—a beautiful singer-dancer-actress, on her way.  

It’s ironic that although everyone today stays glued to cell phones and BlackBerries, you read that people are feeling more isolated than ever. I remember right after 9/11, when people in New York finally started going out again, they went to live performances. Even people who had never attended before gathered in theaters, at the opera, the ballet or the Philharmonic. I think that’s because no matter which side of the footlights you’re on, you form a community and take a journey together for a couple of hours. We all need that


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