If you’re still stuck on the idea that ”arts audiences” are people who attend formally organized, professionally produced cultural events, you’re only seeing a sliver of the pie. So suggests a new study commissioned by the Irvine Foundation and prepared by WolfBrown.
Cultural Engagement in California’s Inland Regions (available here in various versions) offers a broad and deep view of how residents in two of California’s fastest-growing regions engage with the arts. And while its findings are specific to the region (through 1000 door-to-door interviews and 5000 self-administered surveys), its implications can inform all of our work.
Among the conclusions:
- A broad, inclusive definition is important to understanding total cultural engagement. Using a narrow definition of cultural engagement — such as attendance at conventional arts programs in conventional facilities — leaves out significant participation in non-conventional activities (such as quilting) and locations (such as parks) by communities large and small, including African Americans, the Hmong and Mexican farm workers.
- Personal participation levels are high. …. Just over half of all respondents reported that they regularly ”take photographs” while half as many reported that they ”paint, draw or make other art.” Four in ten respondents, on average, sing or play a musical instrument either currently or formerly. Social dancing is the most common form of dance participation addressed in the study, reported by 33 percent of all respondents.
- Much cultural engagement occurs in non-arts spaces. The home far exceeds theaters, museums and galleries as the most common setting for engaging in cultural activities including music, dance, visual arts and crafts. Places of worship and other community venues such as parks play a prominent role in the cultural life of the regions studied, especially among African Americans and Hispanics.
- Heritage-based and socially based forms of cultural engagement attract racially diverse participants. Many cultural activities are deeply embedded in religious, political and social contexts that vary from community to community. Six in 10 Hispanics and African Americans reported that they ”practice cultural traditions in music, dance, storytelling, craft-making or prepare foods that represent your heritage,” compared to a third of Whites. Similarly, Hispanics are significantly more likely to engage in socially based forms of dance, compared to Whites.
- The emergence of ”curatorial” arts activities is changing the landscape of cultural engagement. Many young people and an increasing number of adults are selecting, organizing and editing the art in their lives. At present, downloading music is the third most common form of music participation after listening to music on the radio and attending concerts. For those ages 18 to 24, downloading music is more common than attending live concerts. Demand is likely to increase for activities that maximize the curatorial arts experience by helping people reach higher levels of technical capacity and aesthetic judgment.
- Significant interest in arts learning activities goes unmet. A third of adult respondents indicated that they would like to take dance lessons. Many others reported that they would like to get more involved with photography or take music lessons.
- Role models are key players in the cultural ecosystem. The study defines a cultural role model as ”a person, either living or dead, who inspired you or helped you to express yourself creatively.” Respondents who could identify one or more cultural role models were much more likely to engage in participatory cultural activities and to attend live arts programs than those who could not.
Well worth a reading, or two, or three.