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National Arts Index

October 1, 20101 October 2010

Arts attendance, participation and public perception

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This report from Americans for the Arts synthesizes 76 national indicators into one simple index for the arts in 2008. A product of four years of research and development, the study also tracks the 76 indicators back to 1998, providing an examination of trends over time. The indicators are grouped into nine categories: capacity and infrastructure; arts participation; funding and support; employment; the situation of non-profit organizations; creativity; interest in arts education; private arts-related businesses; and competitiveness. The report indicates that the benefits of the index and underlying indicators include improved communications, evaluation, policy development, foundation for decision-making, community dialogue, planning, forecasting, and partnership-building.

The indicators were produced by a range of organizations, including arts service organizations, federal and state governments, and private research companies. The base year for the index is 2003, and the index was set to 100 in that year. Each one-point change in the index represents a one-percent change.

In 2008, the index value was 98.4, the lowest level since 1998. One of the key findings of the report is that “the arts follow the business cycle”, with downswings in the early 2000s as well as in 2008. Of the 10 yearly changes, the index increased in six years and decreased in the other four. The only time that the index fell below the base value of 100 was in 2008.

The report notes that there has been substantial growth in indicators of arts supply, including arts employment, the number of artists, and the number of arts organizations. Despite the growth in the number of arts organizations, “one in three fail to achieve a balanced budget”.

On the demand side, however, “the competitiveness of the arts for resources and investment is slipping”, with the “Competitiveness Measure” reaching its lowest point in 2007. The study calls this “one of the most telling measures of the National Arts Index”, as it measures “other uses of audience members’ time, donor and funder commitment, and spending”.

Given the findings that arts supply has grown while the competitiveness of the arts has decreased, the report questions whether the growth in supply is sustainable: “are the arts ‘overbuilt’?” The study argues that there is an urgent need “to build audience demand for the arts”.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Public participation in the arts has increased. However, advances in technology, increased diversity, the ageing population, increased interest in personal creation, and “more direct audience engagement and interaction” have changed how the public connects with the arts.
  • Private and public funding (called “the subsidy model” in the report) is struggling, with non-profit arts organizations losing “market share” to other types of non-profit organizations. In fact, the indicator of “contributed support” shows that the arts have not recovered from losses suffered in the early 2000s.
  • Arts-related creativity is on the rise, both from arts organizations and the general public.
  • Demand for post-secondary arts education is high, but national-level data on elementary and secondary school arts education is sporadic or non-existent. As such, the index does not include data on arts education at the elementary and secondary levels.
  • “The number of arts businesses is growing, but success is inconsistent over time.” The 15 arts business indicators measure the number, size and performance of commercial, for-profit businesses in the arts. There are currently about 600,000 such arts businesses in the U.S.

A local arts index is in development for 100 American communities.

The report suggests that the National Arts Index “provides an evidence-based platform for genuine paradigm-changing conversations about key issues”. While it would be very interesting to have a similar Canadian index, the research capacity in Canada is much more limited, and, as such, many of the indicators captured in the American study simply do not exist in Canada. Significant work and financial investment would be required to produce a Canadian Arts Index.

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