From the Deputy Director
By Joan Channick
The Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC), a consortium of five national performing arts service organizations—the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, OPERA America and TCG—working with the Urban Institute and supported by a $2.7-million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently released results from the first year of an unprecedented three-year study aimed at understanding the value of performing arts to individuals and communities.
According to Marc Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America and coordinator of the PARC project, “The findings are extremely encouraging. They reveal an arts audience far larger and more diverse than currently believed, comparable in size to audiences for movies and sports. Support for the performing arts also appears to be broad, with far-reaching cultural, social, and educational implications.”
The data were gathered through telephone surveys of households in Alaska, Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh and Seattle. These communities, representing a range of sizes and geography, were selected for their breadth of performing arts activity and the capacity of their arts organizations to carry out collaborative research.
Given the groundbreaking nature of this research, I thought I might highlight some of the study’s most significant findings. The excerpts that appear below are taken from The Value of the Performing Arts in Five Communities: A Comparison of 2002 PARC Household Survey Data."Attendance at live professional performing arts events, at least on an occasional basis, is an activity enjoyed by a significant majority of adults in the five communities studied. The notion that the performing arts only appeal to a narrow segment of the general public does not appear to be accurate."
Perhaps the most startling revelation was that more people attend live performing arts than attend professional sports. Approximately two-thirds of survey respondents attended a live professional performing arts event within the past year, and between 12 and 18 percent are frequent attenders, seeing at least 12 performances a year. Theatre is the most commonly attended performing arts form."Arts attenders are active citizens who participate in a wide range of activities and volunteer for organizations in theircommunity."
Performing arts attenders are characterized by a high degree of civic engagement: they are more likely than nonattenders to participate in other leisure activities, such as sports, movies and museums, and to do volunteer work. “The arts audience is diverse. It includes people from all age groups and income levels, and is not limited, as is commonly believed, to older and affluent attenders.”
The PARC study did not find a correlation between age and level of attendance, challenging the notion that audiences are “graying.” While there is some relationship between household income and attendance—with nonattenders tending to have lower incomes and frequent attenders tending to have higher incomes—attendance is not merely a function of income. Similar percentages of middle-income and high-income households attend the performing arts. There is, however, a strong relationship between higher levels of education and frequency of attendance.“The research indicates clearly that arts attenders place a very high value on the role of the arts in their lives….This holds true across age groups, income levels, and the presence or absence of children in the home.”
More than 75 percent of respondents agree that the performing arts are enjoyable and thought-provoking and stimulate critical thinking. Between 68 percent (Cincinnati) and 76 percent (Alaska) say that the performing arts help them to better understand other cultures, and between 58 percent (Pittsburgh) and 65 percent (Alaska) say that the performing arts encourage creativity. “Attenders place an even greater value on the arts in their communities than they do in their own lives. They believe strongly that the arts improve the quality of life and are a source of community pride, promote understanding of other people and different ways of life, and help preserve and share culture heritage. Above all, they believe that the arts contribute to the education of children. Especially noteworthy is the fact that a majority of nonattenders share similar views.”
Over 90 percent of respondents believe that the performing arts contribute to the education and development of children, and more than 80 percent say that the arts improve the quality of life in their community. A strong majority also agree that the arts help preserve and share cultural heritage. Respondents placed less value on the economic contribution of the performing arts, an ironic finding in light of the many economic impact studies promulgated in recent years.
In 2003, the same household surveys will be conducted in Austin, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Sarasota and Washington, D.C. Other PARC research projects include audience and subscriber surveys in all 10 communities. The service organizations have also harmonized their annual fiscal surveys, creating a comprehensive economic picture of the not-for-profit performing arts sector.
As TCG’s annual fiscal surveys (Theatre Facts, Sept. 2001) have shown, public funding for the arts has increasingly devolved from the federal level to state and local governments. In a time of intensifying economic and societal stress, when many states are threatening to drastically reduce or eliminate arts funding, PARC’s research provides powerful ammunition for supporting the arts.
For the full text of the PARC survey report, go to www.operaamerica.org/parc/.
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