Will Online Participation Save Classical Arts? – A Note About the New NEA Report on Online Arts Participation

The NEA just released a new report about how Americans use electronic media to participate in the arts. The substantive research is marshaled to highlight a positive trend. The press release states,

“When compared with non-media participants, Americans who participate in the arts through technology and electronic media — using the Internet, television, radio, computers, and handheld devices — are nearly three times more likely to attend live arts events; attend twice as many live arts events; and attend a greater variety of genres of live arts events.”

The study is really worth a look. What the headline can’t address is how online arts participation trends in terms of certain art forms. For instance, how does online participation affect classical arts participation?

When I started Bourgeon, we were a print publication. I noticed when we moved online (in 2007) that the articles which got the most reads were amongst the briefest articles we published. Noticing that, I encourage writers to create pieces between 500 and 800 words. Online reading, actually online viewing of all types, tends toward exposure as opposed to comprehensive experience. While New Yorker.com readers might enjoy longer reads, most online audiences do not. I connect this to an NEA study from 1997, which showed that:

  • The classical music audience is aging faster than the population as a whole. In 1982 those under thirty years of age comprised 26.9 percent of the audience and by 1997 comprised just 13.2 percent of the audience. Over this same span of years, those over sixty years of age rose from 15.6 percent to 30.3 percent of the classical music audience.
  • In 1982 those under thirty years of age comprised just 17.8 percent of the opera audience and by 1997 comprised only 13.3 percent of the audience for opera. Over this same span of years, audience members over sixty rose from 16.6 percent to 23.5 percent of the opera audience.
  • While the new report is positive for my industry in terms of showing overall arts participation, it should be considered within the value structure of the arts. Should we laud a video-game model of arts participation? Does this serve our arts values? Will any arts do? Is all arts participation equal?

    I believe that there are certain values uniquely embedded in what can be called The Patient Arts (classical music, ballet, and opera.) My appreciation for the technique and craft of classical arts is really only exposed in time; I can only experience it with patience. It is not a gymnastics routine. Part of classical arts appreciation is learning to perceive with patience. A Mozart symphony rarely comes in under 25 minutes, and to appreciate a Beethoven symphony you have to be able to listen for 45 minutes. Online participation in the arts is an immensely positive trend, but within it there are real challenges to the values embedded in The Patient Arts.

    image in this post is of Galileo’s clock.

    [The issue of “is all arts participation equal” is peripherally raised in the suggestions for further research section of the new report – pg. 96.]

    Video reviews

    I was able to sit in on the Dance Critics Association annual conference last summer (thanks George.) Hosted by the Kennedy Center, the meeting was an opportunity to sit in a room with the best and newest critics around, and to listen as they shared opinions, joys, and pains. Delphina Parenti‘s performance of an early modern Maslow piece punctuates my memory of the conference.

    Amongst all the talking was some serious hand-wringing regarding changes wrought by technology. Does criticism have to change to reach electronic readers? Perhaps words are no longer enough? Now we will have to make videos also? There isn’t time to do that. How can we be writers and multi-media producers at the the same time?

    I have no idea when this started, or if others are doing it; here is a video review of a new production of Guys and Dolls by Terry Teachout, dance and theater critic for the Wall Street Journal. I’ve enjoyed his blog on arts journal for a while.

    The Joyce Theater now has a blog. Not a hat on the street one, but an actual content-carrying one. Dance Theater Workshops‘s performance listing pages now have images and video from performances.

    As the new things arrive (railroads, cars, telephones, computers….) the worst that the old people can do for themselves is pretend that they can’t work with the new things. The second worst of course is thinking that the new thing can replace them/what they do. I’m pretty sure we’ll start seeing more video reviews published alongside traditional ones. Kudos to Terry and his team for not waiting for the express.