I have to admit it's a little strange to be part of this excellent blog team on the subject of arts marketing. I've never pretended to be any kind of expert on the practice of marketing; though I've done a lot of it, I've frankly shot blanks a lot more often than I've hit gold. (Among my more brilliant ideas was to advertise that there would be no alcohol provided at my twenty-first birthday party. One person showed up.) What I do know is how to look at the big picture when it comes to the arts. And I know from having done a whole lot of that over the past few years that all of you arts marketers are way more important to the future health and success of the professional arts than you may realize.
One reason for this is that the live professional arts have always appealed most to a relatively small niche of society. The recent NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts shows that in the year leading up to May 2008, less than 35% of Americans participated at least once in "benchmark arts activities," which collectively cover the bulk, though not all, of the disciplines and genres we have traditionally considered to be part of our field. That means that nearly two-thirds of American adults went the entire year without seeing a single classical music or jazz concert, attending a single musical, play, opera, or ballet, or visiting a single art gallery or museum. Let me repeat that in case it wasn't clear: 65% of American adults did none of these things at any time in 2007-08. (By contrast, fully 99% of American households have at least one television, and there are actually more TV sets than people in this country!) Lest you think this is a recent phenomenon, in NEA surveys stretching back to 1982, equivalent arts activities never reached more than 41% of the population, and a landmark 1966 study of the economics of the performing arts by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen found that audiences for classical music, theater, and dance in the early 1960s were similarly unrepresentative of the general population in both the U.S. and Britain. Then, as today, participants in the arts and culture are disproportionately socioeconomically privileged: almost half of arts attendees made at least $75,000 a year in the 2008 NEA survey, compared to 30% of the overall population, and arts attendees were nearly twice as likely to have a college degree as the general public.Read More