“You can either increase demand or decrease supply”

Audience at the Sauti Za Busara music festival in Zanzibar

So says Rocco Landesman, the NEA chairman, earlier this year.  I’d read about Landesman’s provocative comment (his response is to decrease supply and prune the arts) some time ago at the Asking Audiences blog (which is, btw, a fantastic place to find info about audience research).  See the two part piece on Supply and Demand in the Arts here and here.  But only now have found an interesting thing to think about regarding that issue, especially as Greg Sandow has been blogging specifically about how Outreach and Education may not be the best bets for creating audiences (or rather, maybe resources could be better used in figuring out how to attract peer audiences rather than an aging and declining one) for Orchestras and other Classical Music organizations.

I kind of disagree with both sentiments, but not necessarily for the reasons many might guess.  And for those of you that know me and this blog, you might be able to guess some of the reasons.

What the NEA data shows is that the audience for “benchmark events” (e.g. Orchestras/Operas/Ballets, Theaters, Sports Events, Stadium Rock Concerts) is declining.  In the case of the music, especially Orchestras, the audience is aging at a rate that is much faster than the rate of the aging population in the US.  That’s pretty self-explanatory, right?

Wrong, because we also know that the NEA data shows that there is greater participation in the arts.  Participation includes the benchmark events as well as the frequency of access of the arts through, say, digital means.  Classical music actually leads the way with 18% of adults using the computer to get their classical music fix (Latin music is second with 15%).

The question is, does this make up the difference for what would otherwise be attendance at live events?  Or to say it another way, is the total participation in the Arts roughly the same as it was if we take into account the totality of participation rather than focusing on one [primary] type of participation.

One of my questions in the past, however, have dealt with how attendance and participation looks across ethnic demographic lines.  The NEA data says that proportionally fewer Blacks and Hispanics attend the Classical benchmark events.  But I’m not sure if the demographic divide has shown the same to be true of participation in Classical music (or maybe I just cant remember).  I would suspect there might be some correlation, but probably not nearly what is found for the live events.

Another question I’ve had is, going back to the benchmark event idea–does attendance at a traditional Chinese Orchestra Concert or Arabic Orchestra count?  If it does, does it get counted in the Classical category or just subsumed under some generic other category?  Do we actually know the demographic of audiences for these kinds of arts events and is it consistent with the proportion of decline we find in Classical music audiences for live events?  Or, even more importantly, is there a correlation of rising audience numbers for these ethnic orchestras which is correlated with the rising number of these ethnic populations?  The latter would surely shed some light on the the aging and declining and mostly white audiences for what is primarily a white European arts genre.

As to Greg’s assertion that outreach and education doesn’t matter as much as we think, I’ve voiced some of my disagreement there.  But again, it’s not for the obvious reason hat I think it’s necessarily working for Classical music.  I think that since the infrastructure of the US has changed significantly for music, the type of outreach and education that does happen cannot replace the more national type of education and outreach that used to dominate earlier in the 20th century.

Having television broadcasts of Toscanini and Bernstein or regular music education in the classroom probably did much more for Classical music as a whole.  Orchestras just can’t duplicate that effect for purely logistical reasons–they are local in nature, whereas the government is national in nature.

But that is exactly what is happening with these ethnic Arts at a local level as they have taken upon themselves to create school music educational systems to start training young musicians in their native arts and after some time it has helped to create an infrastructure at the local level that mimics what Classical music had at the national level back in the 50s and 60s.  And it seems to be working if the number of emerging ethnic ensembles and Orchestras is any indication.

What I want to know is what is the participation in these arts–and until we know those answers, we can only speculate about the real reasons there is decline in other benchmark events because with a third of the population (and still rising) being ethnic minorities with many of their own native arts and arts organizations we surely can’t discount how that can skew the statistics in perhaps a very profound way.


2 thoughts on ““You can either increase demand or decrease supply”

  1. I could not agree more about the effect of outreach and education. The only thing that’s really going to increase interest in classical music again is the continued exposure of younger audiences to it. Why do they go to rock concerts? Because that’s what they hear day in and day out, and they’ve acquired a taste for it.

    I can’t recall the study off the top of my head, but they’ve done research on early exposure to various types of music. If you raise a child hearing post-tonal/atonal repertoire, they accept that as ‘normal’ and display a preference for it. Simply letting people hear and experience the sounds of Beethoven, Mahler, Gluck, or Schoenberg is far more critical than trying to cut and paste a solution of economic management over the entire musical community.

    Just as African and other non-European music genres have the ability to appeal to untrained ears, so too European art music has inherent beauty that only needs to be acquired by a listener.


    1. Exactly! Yes, I’ve seen a number of studies similar to that–and there are even some studies linking the exposure issue to even earlier at the infant stage!

      I’m thinking more of the extra-musical issues surrounding Classical music are at fault here–not the music itself!


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