The “three faces of time” in arts participation

Andries van den Broek has a really cool new paper in Cultural Trends this year. It’s entitled “Arts participation and the three faces of time: A reflection on disentangling the impact of life stage, period and socialization on arts participation, exemplified by an analysis of the US arts audience

It’s a really neat way of thinking about the temporal aspects of culture, and completely original as far as I know (though van der Broek points out that analysis of generational cohorts goes back to Comte).

Here’s a taste of his argument:

This is the history of the arts participation of a fictitious character, Pete. At the end of 2013, he’ll be 50 years of age, which implies he was born in 1963. He is not particularly keen on visual arts or theatre, though he visits the odd exhibition and performance. He is more into rock concerts, but also attends the occasional classical music concert and art house movie.

How come his cultural repertoire is like that? Is this typical of his being 50? (Do other people at the same life-stage typically display a pattern like that?) Or, is this typical of 2013? (Does it reflect what is the cultural offer that year?) Or, is it typical of someone who grew up in the 1970s? (Does it relate to a taste pattern acquired in that era?) It’s probably the case that Pete’s cultural repertoire is affected by all three (and, of course, by many other factors too). But, which aspect of Pete’s cultural repertoire can be attributed to the fact that he is 50; which aspect relates to it being 2013, and which aspect to his having grown up in the 1970s?

van der Broek goes on to do some stats on the effects of these three frames, using US data from the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. This allows him to tease out the differences between, say, the formative cultural experiences of generational cohorts from, say, the effects of their life-cycle in determining their participation patterns. Overall, he finds that people are not participating in as much culture as they used to, and that the composition of artforms does change.

And what is that change? One of the main ones is that fewer people are interested in classical music. Younger generations are not replacing the cohorts of classical lovers that are slowly dying.

Most importantly, though, van der Broek finds that arts participation (at least as measured by the NEA) is declining in the US. “All in all, the upshot is that the future of arts participation is not threatened by the cultural behaviour of recent (or future) as compared to earlier cohorts, but by a general decline in arts participation irrespective of cohort (and of age).”

In summary, a really interesting paper and one that I expect I will be returning to.

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3 thoughts on “The “three faces of time” in arts participation

  1. Good one. Could well be that as we’ve moved into the digital age, our arts participation is redefining itself accordingly. And Pete floating from one art form to the next is a show of this arts participation integrity!

  2. Reblogged this on Henslowe Irving: Arts & Culture Consultants and commented:
    An interesting post by Ben Eltham on his Cultural Policy blog. Venues in particular must face up to the challenge of becoming more than just a space to hire if they want to attract and retain the next generation of arts participants. As institutions, they have a responsibility to work closely with performance-makers to change the nature of the audience experience, reflecting what audiences want and need today. This may mean that younger audiences like the bar open later, sofa seating and table service; middle-aged audiences need help with child-care, earlier start times for performances and longer, more sociable intervals; more senior audiences prefer comfortable seating with good leg-room, well-lit aisles, and easy parking or transport options… These are the concerns of the venue, not the artistic company, and if venues want to survive, they’ve got to step up to the post and show some real leadership on these challenging problems.

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