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The Value of the Performing Arts in Five Communities: A Comparison of 2002 Household Survey Data

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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Released with much fanfare, The Value of the Performing Arts in Five Communities demonstrates that, in terms of public participation, the arts are alive and well in Alaska, Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh and Seattle. The report finds “an arts audience far larger and more diverse than currently believed, comparable in size to audiences for movies and sports”. The statistics presented in the report show that almost two-thirds of respondents reported attending a live performing arts event in 2002. This figure is nearly double that in the nationwide Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. (NEA Note #81 reports that “39 percent of U.S. adults attended at least one of the following arts activities: jazz, classical music, opera, musicals, plays, ballet or art museums”.)

Why such a large difference? First, the Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC) report itself cautions readers that the five communities selected “are not intended to be representative of the entire United States” and that readers should not “extrapolate findings beyond these five communities”. The Coalition intentionally selected five communities with strong local arts organizations. In addition, the five communities have lower than average percentages of African American and Hispanic American residents, who generally attend performing arts events in lower rates than white Americans. For these reasons, it is very likely that attendance in the five selected communities is higher than the norm.

Despite these words of caution, the PARC report is very interesting in its scope and methodology, and the results should be of foremost interest to arts organizations and arts advocates in the five communities. The report provides an analysis of attendance rates, the value of the performing arts for individuals and communities, and barriers to attendance. Data in the report shows that non-attendees in the five communities have a range of reasons for not attending performing arts events, including: a preference for spending their leisure time in other ways; difficulty in making time to go out; the cost of tickets; the lack of appeal of the performing arts; the difficulty or cost of getting to or parking at events; and family obligations.

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