|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
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
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%.
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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
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.
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%).
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.