Service of Arts Attendance

January 22nd, 2015

Categories: Arts, Concert, Live Performances, Museums, Theatre

Alexander Forbes wrote “Why Falling Arts Attendance Has Major Implications for the US Economy,” in He based his arguments on the result of National Endowment for the Arts {NEA} studies.

Attendance at musical performances—jazz, classical, opera, musical theatre—as well as plays, ballet, art museums and galleries, all of which he called “benchmark activities,” have declined between 1992, where 41 percent of US adults attended at least one, and 20 years later, in 2012. That year, 21 percent visited a gallery or art museum and 33 percent went to any benchmark activity.

Of those who attended an event, 73 percent “said their main reason for doing so was to socialize with friends or family, while 22 percent who wanted to participate in an arts activity but didn’t, say it was because they didn’t have someone to join them,” wrote Forbes.

So who is attending, according to the NEA? “Despite similar household incomes and education, people who call themselves middle-class were more likely to attend the arts than those who identified themselves as working class.” Forbes noted the obvious fact that people who define themselves as working class may be working on weekends and evenings when events take place and museums and galleries are open.

He reported that the misunderstanding by some that arts are “for elites by elites,” is worse than before. “Anti-arts rhetoric has become particularly malignant in the years since the economic collapse with many populist-leaning politicians worldwide attacking the arts as unnecessary luxuries that one percent-ers like to enjoy and make the rest of us pay for.”

So what do the arts contribute to US GDP? Forbes wrote $698 billion in 2012 or 4.32 percent of GDP. Note: He clarified that the figure included film, television and advertising industries along with the usual suspects.

Yet he didn’t point out essential information: What percentage of the $698 billion do TV and advertising represent? [I’m giving film the benefit of the doubt and determining that people attend movie theatres though clearly Netflix sales count in this number.] He compared the total to the construction industry with “only” a $586 billion contribution to GDP and transportation and warehousing–$464 billion.

Forbes highlighted the trade surplus generated by the arts–$25 billion—which, given that we don’t export a great deal these days since we stopped manufacturing much, is significant. He also reported that “for every 100 new jobs created in the arts, 62 new jobs are created, on average, in other industries.” And: “For every dollar of increased spending on artworks, $1.98 of total economic output is created. In the case of museums, every new dollar of demand creates $1.76 of gains.”

Do you think that the impact on this country’s economy of fewer people attending “benchmark arts activities” will be as damaging as Forbes suggests should the downward slide continue? Do you attend such events to socialize? If nobody is free to go with you, do you stay home? Are there other potentially dire consequences of this downward trend?

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11 Responses to “Service of Arts Attendance”

  1. Erica Martell Said:

    Erica wrote on Facebook: I think it will have a profound impact on our culture.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree and I think that this impact might be more damaging than the financial one.

  3. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Donna wrote on Facebook: I think there are some flaws in the reasoning here: just because someone does not attend a “benchmark” arts event, that does not necessarily mean that they don’t support the arts. We don’t like crowds, so we tend to stay away from “events.” But we certainly enjoy spending time in museums…..

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Donna, attending museum exhibitions “counts” as a benchmark activity. Forbes defined them as the crowded performances you avoid–concerts, openings and the like–as well as attendance at art museums and galleries.

  5. Hank Goldman Said:

    All the arts appreciators are running to Christies and Sotheby’s to invest, and buy, the Art!
    By the way, I believe The Ny Met museum has broken it’s own high attendance record!

  6. ASK Said:

    I’m afraid too many people are staying home with their screens…whether they be tablets, phones, or Smart TVs…(When did TV become “smart”?) Also, if people are not exposed to any of the arts by their parents or in school, how will they know about the pleasures of “being there” to attend a museum exhibit or a dance performance or whatever?

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder if attendance at an auction counts! It should. We used to visit the auction house pre-sale viewings to see amazing art that would no doubt end up in private collections knowing we’d never again see it. One day I recognized a sculpture. It was a Calder. I said this to my husband and we looked more carefully to see who had owned it. Sure ’nuff–it had been in the bedroom of a school chum’s parents and I’d seen it for years.

    If the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s attendance is up that’s great. Maybe other museums aren’t doing so well. My bet is that concerts of classical music are limping in comparison to years ago.

  8. Hester Craddock Said:

    I think the key to this issue is the word “culture.” Many of the so called “benchmark activities” were once considered to be cultured giving them an elitist tinge, but the word also has an anthropological meaning as in “the cannibal culture of primitive New Guinean tribes.”

    I happen to enjoy Italian opera and Mahler, yet I dislike Jazz and Rock, therefore who is to say that I am any more “cultured” than the New Guineans for whom a morsel of human flesh is a special treat?

    To survive, all forms of entertainment required a supportive audience, and all of those, which are tagged as being supposedly “benchmark,” are really no different. If there is no audience prepared to pay to hear Italian opera, as seems to be increasingly the case in Italy, why shouldn’t this art form be allowed to die out? But, more importantly, I don’t think it is a good idea to give any government the power to support one form of entertainment at the expense of another. Let our multi-cultured society, on its own, decide how wants to be entertained.

    Incidentally, I believe that the supposed impact of “benchmark activities” on the economy is greatly exaggerated. Tastes in entertainment forms are constantly evolving; as one dies out it is replaced by another. The “Super Bowl” did not exist fifty years ago, and look where it is now and what it contributes to the economy?

    Generally, I do not participate in cultural activities to socialize, but when I have, for work or like reasons, often as not, I have found them to be unrewarding entertainment. Usually, I do what I can afford to do.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK and Hester,

    As ASK noted, if parents don’t attend and take their children to galleries and live events, it’s doubtful that their children will become fans or followers.

    In addition, a person used to the flash made possible by technology on a screen may find that the real thing is less than awe-inspiring. A friend was saddened by her 7 year old out of town grandchild’s reaction to seeing the Christmas lights at Rockefeller Center and the other visual treats the city offers during the holidays. He was bored. She was crushed! A bunch of quick takes of Christmas images on a table screen accompanied by lively music would be more real for this child is my guess.

    Hester, the $millions in ad revenue generated by the Super Bowl may count as an event–it includes music at halftime, right?–and the money made by the advertising firms would be included in the GDP for this category. I’d never have thought of it though!

  10. Elizabeth Baecher Said:

    Elizabeth wrote on Facebook: What happens to the economy as a result of diminished interest in the arts, remains to be seen. Forbes is probably right to a degree. Equally, if not more frightening is the negative impact on civilization itself. One possible consequence is a society of zombies attached to their smartphones.

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The smartphone is well named. Those who gather info about habits and locations of people who are slaves to it are smart all the while the owners become dumber because they don’t experience life around them–only what pops on their screens. What a model! And so many have fallen for it.

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