We thrive on change in California. Our shifting demographics and technology innovations point the way for the rest of the country, and we’re aware how these changes can profoundly affect who we are as a people and how we live together. Key to the arts sector’s relevance, and to our role as facilitators of experiences that bridge and build community, is our ability to better understand and keep pace with trends about how Californians experience arts and culture. So it’s important for arts organizations and funders of the arts to step back, on a regular basis, and survey the landscape of arts participation over time.
Every four years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the United States Census Bureau partner to survey tens of thousands of adults across the country in an attempt to understand how people participate in the arts. Today, the NEA releases its most recent findings, from its 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, something I will be discussing on a panel today in Sacramento with National Endowment of the Arts Chairman Jane Chu.
At The James Irvine Foundation, we took this opportunity to take a closer look at arts engagement in California by partnering with the research organization NORC to analyze the California data in that survey.
The report finds that attendance at arts nonprofit-sponsored events have fallen, and even more so, that a lot of arts audiences don’t reflect California’s diversity—in terms of race and ethnicity, income, or education level. At the same time, we found that while Californians are attending traditional arts events less, they are participating in arts in many other new and exciting ways. Arts participation has traditionally been understood to mean arts attendance—and this is what the survey explores—but the data shows that we can benefit from a new understanding and definition for arts participation.