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How Much Does Attendance at Performing Arts Events Vary Across Communities?

Annual rates of attendance at performing arts events in general appear to vary by as much as 17 percentage points across communities with relatively similar performing arts profiles, according to household surveys conducted across ten communities by the Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC) in 2002. With respect to specific types of performing arts events, annual attendance rates can vary by as much as 22 percentage points from community to community.

In 2002, the Performing Arts Research Coalition (PARC), a partnership of five major national arts service organizations -- the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Dance/USA, OPERA America, and Theatre Communications Group -- conducted household surveys in ten communities with relatively similar performing arts profiles: Alaska (urban areas), Austin, Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Sarasota, Seattle, and Washington D.C. Among other selection criteria, each of these communities was chosen as a study site because of the presence of financially and managerially strong local arts organizations and because at least three of the five disciplines encompassed by the participating national service organizations were represented there.

According to the PARC surveys, the percentage of residents in each community who attended specific types of performing arts events over a 12-month period (namely, dance, opera, theatre, and symphony) varied by as much as 22 percentage points from community to community. In the aggregate, rates of attendance at performing arts events in general varied by as much as 17 percentage points across the ten communities studied. [Kopczynski, Mary, and Mark Hager. 2004. "The Value of the Performing Arts in Five Communities: A Comparison of 2002 Household Survey Data (volumes 1 & 2). Washington DC: Performing Arts Research Coalition]

Variation in attendance rates across communities was greatest for symphony orchestra performances. More than a third of Boston and Washington D.C. residents (38% and 34%, respectively) reported attending a symphony performance in the 12 months prior to the PARC survey, compared to fewer than 20% of residents in Cincinnati (19%), Denver (19%), Seattle (19%), and Pittsburgh (16%).

Graph: Proportion of respondents attending at least one symphony performance in the past 12 months (Source: Performing Arts Coalition 2002 Household Surveys)

Theatre attendance rates ranged from a low of 42% in Pittsburgh to a high of 62% in Boston. Rates of theatre attendance were relatively high in Washington D.C. (59%) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (56%), as well. Across the other six communities (Alaska, Austin, Cincinnati, Denver, Sarasota, and Seattle), theatre attendance ranged from 46 to 53%.

Graph: Proportion of respondents attending at least one theatre performance in the past 12 months (Source: Performing Arts Coalition 2002 Household Surveys)
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There was also a great deal of variability in dance attendance across the ten cities. Per capita attendance was highest in Boston (40%), Austin (39%), and Washington D.C. (39%), and lowest in Cincinnati (24%) and Pittsburgh (23%).

Graph: Proportion of respondents attending at least one dance performance in the past 12 months (Source: Performing Arts Coalition 2002 Household Surveys)

While opera attendance rates varied only slightly across eight of the ten communities (ranging from 7% to 11%), residents of Washington D.C. (14%) and Austin (13%) were nearly twice as likely as residents of Cincinnati (7%), Minneapolis-St. Paul (7%) and Pittsburgh (7%) to have attended an opera during the 12 months prior to the survey.

Graph: Proportion of respondents attending at least one opera performance in the past 12 months (Source: Performing Arts Coalition 2002 Household Surveys)

Not unexpectedly, Boston (78%) and Washington D.C. (77%) stood out as the communities with the highest overall rates of attendance at performing arts events. Attendance rates also surpassed 70 percent in Austin (73%), Minneapolis-St. Paul (73%), and Sarasota (71%). Attendance levels were lowest in Cincinnati (62%) and Pittsburgh (61%).

Graph: Proportion of respondents attending at least one performing arts event in the past 12 months (Source: Performing Arts Coalition 2002 Household Surveys)

Differences in Reported Attendance Rates Across Studies

The levels of performing arts attendance reported in the Performing Arts Research Coalition household surveys were, in most cases, significantly higher than the rates of attendance reported in the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), a study commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. For example, while the 2002 SPPA reported that no more than 10 percent of respondents had attended a dance performance during the 12 months prior to the survey, the PARC household surveys of ten communities found dance attendance rates to vary from a low of 23% in Pittsburgh to a high of 40% in Boston.

While several factors may have contributed to the differences in the findings of the two studies, much of the variation is likely due to the fact that the PARC data were collected primarily in major urban areas, where performing arts disciplines are actively represented. The SPPA, on the other hand, surveyed respondents across the United States, including rural areas and small towns where opportunities to attend performing arts events are limited.

There is, in fact, strong support for this explanation of the differences between the findings of the two studies. An analysis of the 1997 SPPA data conducted by MIT professor J. Mark Schuster found high correlations between the geographic distribution of residents in different areas (e.g., urban/rural, metropolitan/non-metropolitan) and rates of attendance at performing arts events. [Schuster, J. Mark. 2000. The Geography of Participation in the Arts and Culture. Santa Ana, CA: Seven Locks Press. (www.arts.gov/pub/Researcharts/Summary41.html)]

People living in areas where a high proportion of the population is rural were found to be much less likely to attend performing arts events than were people living in areas where a high proportion of the population was urban or suburban. For example, the correlation between "percentage rural" and attendance at opera performances was -0.79. (Note: the closer a correlation is to either 1 or -1, the stronger the relationship is between the two measures; the closer to 0, the weaker the relationship.) Because the correlation in this case is negative, it means that as "percentage rural" goes up, opera attendance goes down.

 

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