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Washington, D.C. Performing Arts Research Coalition Community Report

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Document date: January 31, 2004
Released online: January 31, 2004

A collaborative project of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, American Symphony Orchestra League, Dance/USA, OPERA America, and Theatre Communications Group, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


ABOUT THE PARC PROJECT

The Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC) brings together five major national service organizations (NSOs) in the performing arts—the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, OPERA America, and Theatre Communications Group—to improve and coordinate the way performing arts organizations gather information on their sector.

This unprecedented collaborative effort is coordinated by OPERA America and supported by a three-year, $2.7 million grant to OPERA America from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Working with the Urban Institute, a leading nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C., the project is collecting data in 10 pilot communities: Alaska, Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Austin, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sarasota (FL), and Washington, D.C. Information is being gathered on administrative expenditures and revenues of performing arts organizations, the value of the performing arts as experienced by both attenders and nonattenders of arts events, and audience and subscriber satisfaction with performances and related activities.

The findings from these various research activities are expected to help performing arts organizations across the country improve their management capacity, strengthen their cross-disciplinary collaboration, increase their responsiveness to their communities, and strengthen local and national advocacy efforts on behalf of American arts and culture.

Research findings will be available each year of the initiative, and a summary analysis will be released in 2004. The national service organizations are regularly sharing findings with their members, policymakers, and the press, indicating how this information could be used to increase participation in and support for the arts, locally and nationally.

For further information, please contact OPERA America at (202) 293-4466.


Highlights from Five Communities

Following are the key findings from the five household surveys conducted in the metropolitan areas of Austin, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Sarasota, and Washington, D.C. The findings cover participation rates, characteristics of attenders, perceived value of the performing arts to individuals and to communities, and barriers to greater attendance.

PARTICIPATION RATES

The research indicates that 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.

  • Attendance Levels: Approximately three-quarters of respondents reported attending a live professional performing arts event in the past 12 months. These numbers range from 78 percent (in the Boston metro area) to 71 percent (in Sarasota-Manatee). Frequent attenders, defined as those who attended at least 12 performances over the past year, range from 17 percent of respondents (in the Washington, D.C., metro area) to 11 percent (in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area).
  • Arts vs. Sporting Events: In all five communities, more people have attended a live performing arts event at least once in the past year than have attended a professional sporting event. However, arts attenders are active citizens who participate in a wide range of activities and volunteer for organizations in their community.
  • Performing Arts and Leisure Activities: The research confirms that frequent performing arts attenders are also the most frequent attenders of other leisure activities, including sporting events, movies, festivals, museums, and popular concerts. Attenders were generally more involved with these activities than nonattenders of performing arts events. Rather than an "arts" versus "other activities" distinction, the findings suggest that people generally are either involved in community activities (be it attendance at performing arts activities or otherwise) or they are not.
  • Performing Arts and Volunteering: In all five communities, arts attenders and frequent arts attenders are considerably more likely to volunteer than are nonattenders—not just for arts organizations, but generally in their communities. Although there is clear evidence to support this relationship, the data cannot be used to suggest that attendance at performing arts results in higher levels of volunteerism. Nonetheless, arts attenders display characteristics that are conducive to greater civic engagement and stronger communities.

CHARACTERISTICS OF ATTENDERS

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 individuals.

  • Age and Attendance: The most noteworthy finding from the surveys is the lack of a strong relationship between age and level of attendance.
  • Household Income and Attendance: Nonattenders show a trend toward lower incomes and frequent attenders show a trend toward higher incomes. The finding is stronger in some communities than in others, and is weakest in Austin where respondents from the lowest income households are as likely to be frequent attenders as respondents from highest income households.
  • Education and Attendance: There is a strong relationship between education level and category of attendance. That is, as education level increases, so also does the percentage of respondents who are attenders or frequent attenders.

VALUE OF THE PERFORMING ARTS TO THE INDIVIDUAL

The research indicates clearly that arts attenders place a very high value on the role of the arts in their lives in terms of enjoyment, their understanding of themselves and other cultures, creativity, and connection to their communities. This holds true across age groups, income levels, and the presence or absence of children at home.

  • Offers Enjoyment: A strong majority of respondents have strong opinions about the level of enjoyment derived from live performing arts. More than 80 percent of respondents strongly agree or agree that the arts are enjoyable.
  • Factors Related to Enjoyment: As level of education increases, so does the percentage of respondents who strongly agree with the statement that attending live performances is enjoyable. Enjoyment is unrelated to household income level, except in Sarasota where higher household incomes are associated with greater levels of arts enjoyment.
  • Factors Unrelated to Enjoyment: Age and the presence of children at home are largely unrelated to the degree to which respondents find live performing arts to be enjoyable.
  • Stimulates Critical Thinking: In all cities, more than three-quarters of respondents also strongly agree or agree that attending live performing arts is thought provoking.
  • Factors Related to Critical Thinking: The strong belief that the performing arts are thought provoking does not differ substantially by household income level, age, or the presence of children in the home. However, consistent with expectations, this belief is held most commonly by frequent attenders and least commonly by nonattenders.
  • Increases Cultural Understanding: Respondents in each of the five communities have similar views regarding the extent to which live performing arts help them better understand other cultures. Overall, between 70 percent (in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area) and 79 percent (in the Washington, D.C., metro area) of respondents strongly agree or agree with this statement. This strong level of agreement holds regardless of education, income, age, or whether or not there are children at home.
  • Encourages Creativity: More than 60 percent of respondents in each community strongly agree or agree that attending live performing arts encourages them to be more creative. Education level and household income (except in greater Austin) play little role in whether one feels strongly that attending live performing arts encourages higher levels of creativity. However, younger respondents are more inclined to agree than are older respondents that attending live performing arts encourages them to be more creative.

VALUE OF PERFORMING ARTS TO COMMUNITIES

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, help preserve and share cultural heritage, provide opportunities to socialize, and contribute to lifelong learning in adults. Above all, they believe that the arts contribute to the education and development of children. Especially noteworthy is the fact that many nonattenders also share similar views.

  • Individual vs. Community Value: The percentage of respondents with positive opinions about the value of the arts to their community is even higher than that reported in the preceding section. This suggests that people place a higher value on the arts in their communities than they place on the value of the performing arts in their own lives.

Combining the percentages of respondents who strongly agree and agree with each of these statements, more than three-quarters are in agreement, in every community, with every statement in the survey about community values.

  • Value to Children: At least 9 out of 10 respondents in each of the five communities either strongly agree or agree that the performing arts contribute to the education and development of children. These opinions about the contributions made by the performing arts to the education and development of children are held consistently, regardless of education level, income, age, presence of children, or frequency of attendance.
  • Increased Quality of Life: More than 8 out of 10 respondents strongly agree or agree that the performing arts improve the quality of life in their community.
  • Preserves Cultural Heritage: At least 9 out of 10 respondents in each of the five communities strongly agree or agree with the statement that the arts help preserve and share cultural heritage. Among these respondents, the research finds no relationship between this belief and education level, income level, or the presence of children at home. Even nonattenders strongly agree or agree with this statement in relatively large numbers.
  • Strengthens Local Economy: The percentage of respondents who strongly agree or agree that the performing arts contribute to the local economy is slightly lower than for other community values considered in this study. However, the percentage of respondents that strongly agree is considerably lower than for most of the other community values.

BARRIERS TO ATTENDANCE

There are, of course, barriers to arts attendance among nonattenders and barriers to more frequent attendance among those who already attend arts performances. What is particularly interesting is that, despite what some might suspect, the cost of tickets is not the leading barrier.

  • Key Barriers: Of the 11 barriers suggested in the survey, only prefer to spend leisure time in other ways and hard to make time to go out are cited by a majority of respondents in all five communities as a big or moderate reason. Cost of tickets is cited by a majority in all communities except Sarasota, and difficulty or cost of getting to or parking at events is a big or moderate issue for a majority of respondents in Austin and Boston. Cost of tickets ranks second or third across the sites, never first.
  • Prefer Spending Time Elsewhere: Between one-quarter and one-third of respondents in each community indicate that their preference to spend leisure time in other ways is a big reason why they do not attend more performing arts events. The preference to spend leisure time in other ways is the factor that most clearly differentiates attenders from nonattenders in all five communities.
  • Difficulty Finding Time: Interestingly, attenders and frequent attenders are almost as likely as nonattenders to say that hard to make time to go out is a substantial barrier. The main variable that makes this a big factor for more people is the presence or absence of children in the home.
  • Cost of Tickets: The cost of tickets is the only "big" barrier that attenders cite more often than nonattenders or frequent attenders. Especially noteworthy is the fact that cost of tickets as a barrier to performing arts attendance is substantially unrelated to education level, age, or whether there are children in the home.

The research makes clear that attenders and frequent attenders share the same concerns about limited time and the cost of tickets with nonattenders. Yet the first two groups find attendance at the arts sufficiently rewarding to overcome these obstacles. Artists and arts organizations have the challenge of offering performances of sufficient quality, supported by strong customer service and community programs, to help potential attenders and frequent attenders overcome these barriers.

Other obstacles cited less often by attenders and nonattenders also offer arts organizations an opportunity to build audiences by overcoming barriers of perception.

  • Lack of Appeal: The statement that the performing arts do not appeal is cited as a big barrier by between 6 and 12 percent of respondents in the five communities. This barrier clearly is tied to education level and, as might be expected, clearly differentiates attenders from nonattenders. Performing arts organizations might consider increasing community programs and adult education activities that could help build an interest in the arts among nonattenders.
  • Feel Out of Place: A number of nonattenders said they feel uncomfortable or out of place at performing arts events, although fewer people cite this as a big barrier, and the relationship with education is much weaker in all communities. Performing arts organizations might wish to examine the way audiences are greeted and made to feel welcome upon entering the theater and before performances, during intermissions, and at the conclusion of the event.

An additional barrier is the difficulty or cost of getting to or parking at events, which varies in importance by community. This particular obstacle could be addressed by arts organizations if they are in a position to make special parking arrangements for their audiences. Similarly, the belief that performances are in unsafe or unfamiliar locations could be mitigated by improved lighting, more visible security, and general awareness of the needs of the audience beyond the final applause.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Acknowledgments

The authors of this report are grateful to Marian Godfrey and Shelley Feist of The Pew Charitable Trusts for their generous and enthusiastic support of this effort.

We are also grateful for the leadership provided by the Performing Arts Research Coalition and its participants: Marc Scorca and Donald Delauter from OPERA America; Charles "Chuck" Olton, Jack McAuliffe, and Jan Wilson from the American Symphony Orchestra League; Sandra Gibson from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters; Andrea Snyder and John Munger from Dance/USA; and Ben Cameron, Chris Shuff, and Joan Channick from Theatre Communications Group. We offer our special thanks to Mary McIntosh at Princeton Survey Research Associates International for managing data collection for the PARC household surveys.

Finally, we wish to thank Elizabeth Boris and Harry Hatry from the Urban Institute for their guidance throughout the project, and Erica Lagerson for her assistance in managing key aspects of data collection. Errors are those of the authors, whose views do not necessarily represent those of the Urban Institute, the Performing Arts Research Coalition, or The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Mary Kopczynski and Mark Hager
The Urban Institute



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