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Shocker News: Why Galleries Are So Empty

Today’s Telegraph contained startling news from the U.K. that makes me wonder about the U.S.

…Four in 10 children have never seen the inside of an art gallery, while 17 per cent haven’t visited a museum with their parents.

…a quarter of children haven’t been to the theatre, while six in 10 have never heard or been to a classical music concert. One in 10 kids hasn’t even left their home town to visit other cultural sites in the UK.

And half of parents admit they make little effort to educate their children on culture or history, relying on schools to do so.

The story did not include a margin of error, and admittedly was based on a survey of only 2,000 parents of five to 12 year-olds throughout the UK. But I have no reason to believe that numbers would be better in the U.S. Please comment if you can shed light on this.

Perhaps the most worrisome statement in the article was this: “The poll found today’s children are more likely to think of ‘culture’ as modern technology such as computer games, the rise of the digital age and fast food restaurants.”

That is backed up by the way “culture” is written about in newspapers and magazines. Video games, web phenonmena, and restaurants are all grouped together in Style or Culture sections. That may, though, be a mixed blessing — a true Culture section might simply be ignored. Again quoting the Telegraph,

When questioned on why they make no effort to make their children more ‘cultured’ and knowledgeable about past history, a fifth of parents claim their offspring simply wouldn’t be interested.


  1. Elizabeth Zimmer says

    Perhaps 20 years ago, I was a “visiting artist” in an upstate New York middle school. I asked the students how much disposable income they had to spend on “culture,” and what they spent it on. The answers fascinated me: these 13-year-olds thought nothing of dropping $50 on a ticket to a rock concert, or buying CDs. A cultural, curatorial decision, in their minds, was buying graphic T-shirts. I think that in 2012 the situation would be even more extreme. All the disposable income would go to supporting their smartphones, which make them cultural “producers” (cf. Facebook) as well as consumers. Culture….music, particularly…is now in their pockets.

    • josh reynolds says

      Why be surprised? It has been calculated that even adults spend less than 30 seconds in front of a masterpiece in a museum. You’d have to animate the paintings or view them through 3-D glasses to attract the young. The real problem is that parents don’t make art or it’s appreciation a part of everyday life. I almost fell over as I walked past a bus kiosk in NYC and heard a mother point out to her son that the gold figure of a near nude man with his arms and legs extended in an ad was after a drawing by Leonardo de Vinci. When was the last time you heard an adult speak to a child about art as a part of everyday life. People in the business may eat and breathe the subject, but the public never hears about it. This is not a part of the public’s conversational vocabulary. Sad but true.

  2. In the states, many schoolchildren are introduced to museums through school visits. I know as a youngster in the Bronx, my first visit to the Metropolitan Museum was with my elementary school. Unfortunately today, cuts in budgets have eliminated buses to get to the museums which, in all but the largest metropolitan areas, is a necessity to travel.

  3. MaggieBrooklyn says

    As a museum professional and a parent, I find it unsurprising that so many kids would not be exposed to arts and culture. The comments from the parents are the most telling–their kids would not be interested? They don’t have time to go trekking about the country visiting historic sites? They can’t afford it?

    While I can understand that price might be an issue–many cultural institutions do have high entrance fees–the other comments speak to a few important things about culture and parenting. Parents who are truly interested in something–like music, art, history, etc–can pass that enthusiasm to their children. If kids are not being exposed to culture, it’s because the parents themselves are not interested in culture or are not engaged parents.

    So, how do you get the parents interested, when there are so many other things competing for their time and money? I think that’s what many cultural institutions are wrestling with on a daily basis.

    But, clearly, if Britain is interested in having a more culturally educated population, they are going to have to take an active roll in educating and finding ways to make visits to museums and cultural sites more attractive and affordable to parents.

  4. We are surrounded and bombarded by music and art , but it is commercial music and art…that often makes reference to classical music and art. Kids dance, but do they study dance? Some do. Do school trips still go to museums and city concerts for kids. Perhaps a few here and there.But parents do look for free things to do with their children and many cultural venues will offer free days. a parent needs to find these free things and take advantage of them because our tax dollars will not be spent on providing these services in the future, if families do not go to them. Staycations are a wonderful way of building cultural awareness on a budget. Even the amount of creative art classes offered to children in schools has suffered cutbacks, because testing creative expression is not done, so it is not taught. Only “Glee” and “American Idol” seem to be out in widespread exposure of singing talent. Our watercolor society will be giving out $300 in prizes this year to 3 high school seniors. Too little, too late may apply, but that’s one thing we can do.

  5. You could look at these numbers another way. In Britain sixty percent of students have been inside an art gallery—much better than I would have guessed. Forty percent have been to a classical music concert. (Really?) Seventy five percent have seen a play in a theater. Ten percent have actually traveled to another place for a cultural experience. Nearly half the parents make an effort to introduce their children to culture.

    I am very skeptical that numbers in the U.S. come anywhere near that.

  6. Jim VanKirk says

    I spent a brief period of my life living in Spain. Every night there was a 5 minute segment on the national news announcing some Artist or Art event somewhere in Spain. Every night.

    • I love that idea, Jim — having worked in TV, I believe it could happen here only if a sponsor stepped forward to pay for a nightly segment on art. If it were sponsored, it would get done.

  7. As a cultural sector worker, I completely agree with MaggieBrooklyn. The problem or the answer is in parenting. Today, there is no more quality time with children if it doesn’t include something the parent wants to do. I see young (but older also) parents spending whole weekends in shopping malls, with their bored or screaming children, aged few months and up. The superficiality has reached its maximum in every aspect of life and parenting is not an exception. Children are what their parents are. It’s so simple. My first contact with the culture was when I was 2 years old. By the time I was 6, I was already singing, dancing, writing and playing the piano. I still love arts more than anything. My parents were doing completely regular jobs, they did not have creative upbringing but they encouraged me in every way. I am not the exception. I think this statistic is sad because it says so much on “Parenting in 2010s”.

  8. Taking a child to a museum can be nerve-racking. Most often, strollers are not allowed, so the littlest ones must be carried or walk. If you have 2 children under the age of 5, forget it. The art is hung very high, from the kid perspective, with smaller works on pedestals often out of sight. And there is the whole “no touching” issue. Yes, these are all for the safety of the art, and I would not change that, but it does explain a lot about why people with younger children often don’t take them to look at art. It’s not an enjoyable experience. Better get a babysitter and be able to enjoy the art yourself rather than spend your visit making sure the little ones don’t create a fuss or hurt the art.

    As far as free days are concerned: they aren’t particularly child friendly. Mid-week between 10 am and 4 pm is not when many parents can take their children to a museum because both parents are working. The number of kids in daycare is enormous and it is an exceptional daycare center that has the resources to take the kids already out of diapers to a museum. Enter elementary school and the opportunity of a free day disappears. To pay $10 or more per child on the weekend to see the permanent collection (let’s not even get into the special exhibitions!) becomes a pricey outing. Sure, a family membership makes it “free,” but given museum hours and those of the average child by the age of 5, you’d have to visit the museum almost every weekend to make that pay for itself. And most kids have a range of other things to do, such as playing on a sports team, playing with friends, seeing an occasional movie, perhaps some homework, and possibly a visit to a house of worship. You have to be dedicated, insistent, an have money to visit a museum with any regularity.

    Musical events and theater are even more challenging for the parent. Sit still and keep quiet for long stretches of time? That’s hard for many adults, let alone children. Fortunately, most theaters mount at least one production each year that is aimed at a kid audience and has weekend matinees and/or an earlier curtain time. Many dance companies and orchestras also follow this practice. But price can still be a sticking point. As government funding of all kinds evaporates, fundraisers have to work extremely hard to find underwriting for all aspects of a cultural institution–behind the scenes and public amenities–making everything more expensive.

    Yes, we need to expose our kids to art whenever possible. But the presenting organizations have to
    be supported. And they must be to sensitive to what makes it possible and attractive for kids to attend. Think long-term. Kids who feel comfortable at cultural events enjoy them more, and that pleasure encourages them to attend throughout their lives.

  9. Appreciation of arts and culture needs to be modeled at home in the same way that we pass along love of reading and literature. In our fast-paced, multi-media, information overloaded society, immersion in art and culture demands a slowing down, a mindfulness and attentiveness to the moment. It’s not easy but it’s so worth it!

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