Monday, March 8, 2010

The State of the Arts

These are challenging times for nonprofit arts organizations - and not just because of the economy:
  • Since 1998, the number of nonprofit arts groups - all competing for audience and participants and grant funding - has increased by 42%. At the same time, attendance and ticket sales at most mainstream arts organizations have been in a steady decline.
  • People are increasingly staying at home, choosing to participate in the arts through television or the internet - where you can find almost anything you want to see, for free - or through do-it-yourself arts projects.
  • For-profit businesses - bookstores, cafes, restaurants, retail stores - have become very proactive in promoting and presenting lectures, concerts, and events. For the most part, there is no admission charged because the payoff is increased business, foot traffic, and name recognition. Often these events are benefits for local nonprofits, increasing goodwill for the business while blurring the lines between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds.
  • The cell phone culture, in which anyone can be reached and plans made at any moment, has resulted in a casual and last-minute approach to life. This has lead to reduced advance ticket sales and subscription series sales.
  • As America's population grows in diversity, people are seeking out arts experiences through ethnically and/or culturally specific organizations rather than standard arts venues.
  • At museums, concerts, and theater performances, the majority of folks attending are gray-haired and Caucasian. Nonprofits are struggling to find ways to engage new and ethnically diverse audiences, especially those who are under 40.
  • In the competition for government and foundation dollars, arts agencies rarely win when pitted against agencies that feed the poor and house the homeless. For the past decade, arts and cultural groups have been steadily losing their share of philanthropic dollars to international, environmental, disaster relief, and social services agencies.
What does this mean for the future? There are some innovative success stories to consider: the Metropolitan Opera's simulcasts in movie theaters, ArtsMemphis' Iphone app that allows people to directly access their calendar, the new wave of (not quiet anymore) libraries with cafe-like atmospheres and lots of computer access, lively singles' nights at theaters and classical music venues. Arts organizations are going to have to work harder, be more creative and business-savvy, stay up on current trends in social media, experiment with programs designed to reach people of all ages and cultures, and actively seek out collaborative efforts with both for-profit and nonprofit partners that draw new participants.

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