A Crisis for Artists-Part 1

As I blog more and more, I want my readers to know some of the things that I truly care about.  What’s on my mind.  So look forward to more posts (hopefully shorter than this one) about art- all kinds.  And what is going on here in Fort Worth, as well as in America.
I mentioned in a previous post that I had an interview last week. The interview was for a position with a major performing arts group here in Fort Worth.  During our meeting, my interviewer asked me if I’d seen the television special on the National Endowment for the Arts (the NEA) latest report on public participation in the arts.  I haven’t seen the special, but I am aware of the report and its findings. (You can read/skim the almost 100 page report)

I am by no means claiming to accurately summarize the report here on this blog (especially when they take 90 pages to painstakingly cover every point), but here’s the gist of it.  They compared adult Americans’ participation in the arts in 2002 and 2008.  I should clarify that their definition of art falls into visual art and then six categories of performing art: jazz, classical music, opera, ballet, dance other than ballet.  They added the area of Latin-American music in 2008 to reflect its growing popularity.
In 2002 the percentage of adult American’s participating (either as an audience member or taking classes or making art as a part of their leisure activities-not as a profession) in the arts (visual and performing) was already low, under the 50% mark for most areas of art, and they only decreased even further in 2008.
This doesn’t surprise me. What does disturb me is who is participating in the arts.  The majority of audience members in most art forms 2008 were a) much older than in previous years b) of a higher level of education (at least some college) c) of a higher level of income.  And adults from New England were more likely to participate in most forms than any other region (gee, I wonder why…).  And these results were generally more pronounced in opera and ballet. 
When I say that this disturbs me, I’m not upset that these people make up our audiences, but I am disappointed to note that if most of your audience is older… well, where are your new audiences going to come from (hello, mortality, I’m not trying to be morbid, but if most of your audience is 80…. Then I don’t know how many more performances they’ll be able to see…)?  And why should the arts be exclusive- only for the rich and highly educated?  Why should they be associated with status (especially when most artists don’t have that type of status themselves)?  And while there is a ton of art in the New England area… there’s also great art elsewhere, all over the country.  Now if only we could get people to care. 
The only art form that is growing in participation is Latin-American music…. And, unlike other forms, this type of music brings in a more diverse audience in terms of income and education level, as well as race.
Back to my interview.  She asked me, based on my background as a dancer (and as someone who studied ballet, one of the more suffering forms) and based on my career aspirations (to at some point have a performing company of my own) how do I view this crisis?  What can we do?  Do we change that art to bring more people in?
And it got me thinking about art.  And why should people care?  And that is a huge topic in and of itself, that I could (and will) tackle for many posts here on this blog.  Right now I’m not sure why people should care.  Some people just don’t like art. Of any kind.  And I don’t like football, really.  And yet it changes the landscape of our culture.  Football does, I mean.  So do sports in general.
And art can, and does.  We can’t say that Americans as a whole don’t appreciate art… because we sit on it and live in it via interior design.  We see it in advertising.  We watch it on tv.  We listen to it on the radio.  We see it in blogs and on the internet. Fashion is a commercial art that we wear (and a few of my readers care about deeply).
And that’s NEA’s definition of our crisis.  They know people engage with art on a daily basis. But what about this kind of art?  Why would people rather sit on the computer or watch tv and see art rather than seeing live performances, non-commercial performances, of the classic arts.  I think that more people are aware of art more than ever, it’s just an issue of how they’re seeing it.  And is that a bad thing?
I think about shows like So you think You Can Dance, that has done a lot for dance (the Happy Feet foundation, bringing ballet into people’s living rooms, albeit occasionally, bringing great choreographers like Mia Michaels and Desmond Richardson to the masses), but still cuts us short with its incredible commercialism (people watch that show and think that is the peak of dance… and while there are great dancers and great performances, it is not an accurate representation of American dancers).  They are changing the art form, in my opinion, so that people will watch. But is it really all that bad for dance?  Is it bad that more people watch dance on this show than in a theater setting?
Maybe it’s not, but I don’t think that means that the live experience of art (whether that be in a theater or a gallery) should be something that is just for the rich or the educated.  Or just for New England.
And then I think about myself.  And how many live performances I’ve been to in the past year.  And if, as someone who calls myself an artist, I’ve supported my local artists enough?
So why do you care about art?  Or do you?  What does it take to get you in a theater seeing a show, or at a festival listening to music, or in a gallery browsing the paintings?  Or are you fine to let the art come to you?  Does art need to change in order for it to survive?  Or is live performance something of the past?

2 thoughts on “A Crisis for Artists-Part 1

  1. Very, very thought provoking post.

    And I'm not sure that I am qualified to answer as I have to admit that I have not been to a live performance in about a year!

    I think that any form of art has to evolve along with its audience. Hasn't this always been the case? If it didn't evolve, we would still be content to paint on the walls of caves.

    The internet has connected us with people that we might never have interacted with. For example this conversation right here. But, in many cases, it has also disconnected us from the real world because it is so easy to just explore the world online without ever leaving the comfort of home.

    I believe that getting children involved in art from an early age is critical to battling this situation. Instill a love in them at an early age, work with and adapt to the existing technologies, and perhaps art can remain relevant in an increasingly isolated and technological world!

  2. hmmmmm…. these are all thoughts that have been plaguing my mind recently as well. as a student of visual art, i am faced with the nagging doubts and concerns of “why?” why do i like to make stuff? why should i make stuff? why does it matter? i mean, does it matter? surely it must…. but it seems so immeasurable

    why do i care? hmm… honestly, for me, art (an all its forms) boils down to entertainment, almost purely. sure, it can have a lasting impact, but i think it ought to entertain something, be it our imaginations, our thoughts, senses, etc.

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