The Playgoer: NEA on Young Audiences

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Friday, November 03, 2006

NEA on Young Audiences

The NEA has issued its report on "The Arts and Civic Engagement," focusing especially on the "young adult" demographic (for NEA that's 18-34, not teenagers.)

This header from page six sums things up: "Young Adult Participation: A 20-Year Decline."

Their stats actually just show very gradual shrinkage--from little participation in the 80s to even less now. Still, a trend's a trend:

Performing Arts Attendance (Ages 18-34)

1982 / 1992 / 2002 / 1982-2002 / 1992-2002
18.5% / 15.9% / 15.1% / -3.4 pp / -0.8 pp* (Musicals)

11.5% / 12.5% / 10.9% / -0.6 pp* / -1.6 pp* (Plays)

Percentage points (pp)

* No statistically significant change

And here's the report's stirring conclusion:
These declines merit attention because they are the first signals of arts participation patterns by Generation Y, the second largest generation in U.S. history. With 68 million people born between 1977 and 1994, this cohort’s current and future engagement levels will determine the viability of our arts and our communities.

Note the falloff in attendance at musicals over twenty years (between those born 1948-1964 and today's counterparts) is greater than plays. When even musicals are losing popularity...well ya got trouble, my friends.

However, the "statistically insignificant" decline overall in the last decade suggests to me that "Generation Y" is no more or less apathetic than my fellow Gen X'ers. Not necessarily encouraging, but a hint that this is not all the sudden result of the internet or X-Boxes.

Overall, what I take away is that non-musical theatre (and I'll assume even non-Broadway theatre, even though the study doesn't account for this) is clearly now a regular activity for only 10% of the population under 40.

Again, the short 8-page pdf of the report is here. Otherwise, the LA Times has an even shorter summary.


Rex Austin Barrow said...

Where can this blame be laid? The producers? The playwrights? A lack of interesting subjects, or new work that is any more fantastical than that we find on television?

huh . . .

The Playgoer said...

I should add that the methodology of this survey is worthy of question. I'm no statistician, but simply cold-calling small samples in this day and age seems not the most reliable way of gathering data.

After all, maybe all the young theatregoers, by definition, weren't home!

Malachy Walsh said...

You know, the cold calling thing has an interesting wrinkle.

If they were cold calling people on landlines, they might only have reached people who don't have cell phones.

I know plenty of people under 35 who don't have a landline.