The latest National Endowment for the Arts Survey of Public Participation in the Arts confirms that classical music audiences are dwindling, but not all the news is bad, especially in the nascent online world.
First the bad news. Among the results, released this week, the survey supports earlier findings that millions of adults consume classical music through the mass media—the Internet, TV, and radio—rather than attend live concerts. Indeed, the NEA ranks classical and Latin salsa as the most heavily consumed music in this fashion. That mirrors one other recent survey that found that more people listen to classical music in their cars than in concert halls.
The periodic survey—compiled five times since 1982—could not confirm a direct correlation between concert attendance and the recession, but the NEA acknowledges that concert attendance in 2008 fell sharply. Classical music attendance continued to decline—at a 29 percent rate since 1982—with the steepest drop occurring from 2002 to 2008.
The new survey shows a clear trend in terms of the age of the classical audience: the classical music audience still is graying. “For one thing, 18–44 year olds are not attending arts events at the same rate as they did 26 years ago,” the survey found. “As a group, arts participants are older than before. They also are increasingly older than the average adult.”
The average age of the classical music fan rose from age 40 to 49 between 1982 and 2008—only jazz and ballet audiences aged as much. Even as the classical audience is graying, fewer older patrons are attending concerts: the percentage of adults age 45 to 54 attending classical concerts dropped 33 percent.
During that same period, the percentage of adults ages 18 to 24 attending classical music concerts dropped 37 percent.
These declines were seen even among the most educated adults.
Now the good news.
The percentage of people making music has increased, ever so slightly, over the years—an indication that enthusiasts may be becoming a more significant segment of the musical community. For example, the rate of participation in classical music performance slipped from 1992 to 2002, then grew over the next six years, showing an increase of 1.2 percent. That increase came at a time when concert halls saw their aforementioned decline.
And the Internet has become a major outlet for those seeking the arts. Overall, 47.3 million Americans view, listen to, or download music, theater, or dance performances on the Internet.
“One captivating finding is that most adults who use the Internet to engage with artworks do so at least once a week,” the survey notes. “Future analysis will show the extent to which online participants differ from other arts participants, and what are some overlapping characteristics.”
What does all of this mean for musicians, concert programmers, and educators?
“For the time being, the survey poses an opportunity to contemplate the costs of reduced arts participation, and to review strategies—in arts programming and arts learning, in public policy and popular media—for cultivating this vital form of personal and social engagement,” the NEA concludes. “In a recession, those costs may be even greater than before, as entire segments of the US population, especially young adults and less educated and lower-income groups, are denied life-changing experiences through art.
“Such experiences are important not only for producing an inspired and imaginative citizenry, but also for preserving and articulating our cultural heritage as Americans.”
Read, or download, the NEA survey summary here