Scratch that report, what the NEA meant to say was . . .

Every five years, the National Endowment for the Arts and the US Census Bureau take the temperature of arts consumption in the US.

The last report was published in June of ’09 (almost 2 years ago now), and as I wrote in this blog, reading the results will leave you a little spooked about where the theater and arts in general might be headed.  In other words, don’t read it right before bed, because basically it says, “There’s a monster in the closet and he’s coming for you.”

Flash forward a couple of years, and the NEA thought perhaps it was time to adjust some of the benchmarks used to measure whether an individual was participating in the arts, since participation in the digital age is possible in much different ways than participation twenty years ago.

So, they had another group of researchers examine the data from the survey looking for if individuals were consuming arts electronically.  Just because it’s on a screen, doesn’t mean it’s not art, right?

Using this new set of criteria, the NEA was able to announce that 3 out of 4 Americans participate in the arts as opposed to the previously reported 1 in 4.

In other words, look out, monster, we’re fighting back, and we’ve got the technology to kick some ass.

Is this report a bit of spin from the NEA?  Yes.  Is it also valid?  Yes.

How we consume everything from entertainment to news and so on has changed ‘dramatically’ over the last 5 years, so it only makes sense that we adjust the metrics we’re using to measure our audience’s engagement.  However, since digital distribution is not a revenue stream for theatrical producers (yet), this engagement is only valuable to us from a marketing perspective (although it is a good one).

You can read the complete and fascinating report here.

But here was my favorite nugget:

There is a strong relationship between arts attendance and creation.  These results suggest that successful audience-building strategies may consist of programs that combine art-making and personal performance with live attendance opportunities.

That gives me some ideas . . . you?


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  • L.K. Behan says:

    Sure sounds like they mean to suggest that audiences are more likely to attend shows that feature new, original material rather than revivals.

  • David King says:

    “However, since digital distribution is not a revenue stream for theatrical producers (yet), this engagement is only valuable to us from a marketing perspective (although it is a good one).” I am aware of two programs that are indeed great revenue streams for the producing companies: NT Live (From the National Theater in London) and the Metropolitan Opera.

  • Good point. I love those programs. Except, I wouldn’t be so sure that these programs are profitable by themselves. It’s no coincidence that both of those institutions are non-profits, and have heavy corporate sponsorship and/or government assistance. Additionally, these programs help market the institution as well as the production.

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