In an article in the SUN on December 29th (“Audience for the arts down, but not out”) – which draws on a recent survey issued by the National Endowment for the Arts – we learned that between 2002 and 2008 attendance at art museums and galleries declined by 22% (classical music was down by 17% and opera by nearly 34%); this happened in just six years.
And this was happening during a period of unprecedented museum building expansion!
Nowadays, significantly fewer people are taking part in the arts, and those that are, are doing so less frequently than in the past.
In that same article we learned that the percentage of leisure time among those 18 and over devoted to “arts” activities declined from 41% to 34.6% between 1992 and 2008.
Another disturbing fact: only 2 of 10 people ages 18-24 had ever taken a visual arts class in 2008, compared with 4 of 10 in 1982.
This seems not to be just a phase or cycle, but a fundamental shift, driven by technology and by the explosion in competing choices for our leisure time.
The good news, such as it is, is that participation in sports and movies has declined even more precipitously – and, as might be expected, many more people are experiencing art on the internet than in the past.
Today, on the op-ed page of the SUN (“A new exodus”), we learned, among other things, that the population of Baltimore City declined by 13.5% between 1990 and 2010.
And we all know that this decade ended with the DOW lower than it was in 2000.
Is there any good news out there?
There certainly is. Since the Walters eliminated its general admission fee in 2006, our base-line (non-exhibition-driven) attendance is up, and remaining up, by about 40%.
And the attendance at the show we closed yesterday, HEROES: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece, exceeded our projections by 40%.
Something to be thankful for at the beginning of a new decade.