Arts and culture deeply affect the quality of our lives and influence how we live together. They strengthen our ability to imagine, to empathize, and to see from another perspective. In a diverse yet interdependent society, arts provide a meaningful bridge for individuals and cultures to connect to one another. For these reasons, The James Irvine Foundation is excited to present new data that provide insights on the critical role that arts nonprofits can play in communities. The study, conducted by researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago, and reported in The Cultural Lives of Californians: Insights from the California Survey of Arts & Cultural Participation, reframes the conversation about arts participation.
For many years, arts nonprofits have been tracking a downward trend in arts attendance. By looking beyond the typical measures of participation, the NORC study reveals a seemingly contradictory takeaway: the new narrative is not entirely about decline! Californians actually have a deep interest in the arts and lead active cultural lives. People want to engage, in art-making and arts-learning in particular. Emerging technologies, expectations, and cultural norms mean art is happening in new places and ways. At the same time, this updated narrative comes with elements of urgency for the nonprofit arts sector — for example, California’s largest and growing demographic groups do report lower overall arts participation and they are less likely to attend benchmark arts events.
This study, and a growing body of research, point to several important opportunities and implications for arts organizations and the sector to:
Respond to the High Demand for More Active Arts Participation
Californians are hungry for hands-on, creative activities. People engage in art-making more regularly than they attend arts events. To meet this demand, arts nonprofits can rethink their relationship with the audience as passive consumers and explore new programs, practices, business models, and funding streams that allow for more engagement in making, curating, or appreciating art.
Expand Offerings to Meet People Where They Are
Californians are engaging in arts in a wide spectrum of public and private places, such as at home, online, at community centers, and at festival grounds. Virtual experiences support the learning, making, and sharing of art in ways that are social, mobile, and highly accessible. Rather than continue deep investments in the building, maintenance, and programming of arts-specific venues, arts nonprofits can lean into cultural and technology trends that bring artistic content to people in the comfort of their home and the heart of their community.
Explore How Arts Can Stimulate Greater Participation and Connection among California’s Largest and Growing Demographic Groups
As one of the country’s most diverse states, California is seeing significant population increases among Latinos, Asians and immigrants, as well as older adults. Yet research shows these growing groups are less likely to attend arts experiences in conventional venues, and they report lower overall arts participation and support. Arts nonprofits can examine how existing modes of operation become barriers for these populations. And they can explore ways to better respond to the interests of diverse communities through their organizations’ mission, people, and programs. The NORC study finds that Californians feel a sense of connection when they engage in arts and culture, encouraging approaches that bring people together within and across diverse communities.
Create Pathways to Greater Arts Support
Californians care about and support the arts. The NORC study shows 41 percent of California adults donate money, goods or services to support arts and culture, and almost one-third volunteer with arts or cultural organizations. In a diverse and changing state, the nonprofit arts sector cannot take that support for granted. California’s arts nonprofits must effectively develop diverse groups as donors and supporters. This is likely to involve rethinking volunteer opportunities and monetary giving programs — and ensuring that outreach is authentic and sustainable, rooted in mission, and reinforced by organizational leaders, partnerships, and practices.
Embrace This Moment of Change
Research strongly suggests that a new arts and culture ethos is in order — one that is more relevant to a new California, reflective of its people and responsive to emerging behaviors and preferences. Findings from the NORC study challenge nonprofit arts leaders to reimagine the structure and dynamics of the field, and importantly, to seize new opportunities to innovate and grow.
I invite you to view the full report and companion visualization of key data points, and I encourage you to share and discuss this information.