Randy Cohen

Randy Cohen

This post is one in a series highlighting the Local Arts Index (LAI) by Americans for the Arts. The LAI provides a set of measures to help understand the breadth, depth, and character of the cultural life of a community. It provides county-level data about arts participation, funding, fiscal health, competitiveness, and more. Check out your county and compare it to any of the nation’s 3,143 counties at ArtsIndexUSA.org.

Nearly 50 percent (!) of the indicators in the Local Arts Index are now available for viewing. Haven’t stopped by lately? Take a moment to check out the “Where I Live” page to see what is new, and take a few minutes to see how where you live compares to other communities.

We’ve been releasing indicators in a series of groupings of related subjects, museums and collections-based organizations for instance, and most recently the performing arts.

Newly released this week is a group of arts education measures. And soon we’ll be releasing the ability to generate mini-reports, grouping specific indicators that you may find valuable.

But first the performing arts…There are two windows into the performing arts in these recently released indicators: popular entertainment and the lively arts. How do they describe your community, and how do they compare and contrast to other communities like yours?

Do some members of your community spend their dollars on attending popular entertainment (the national average is $20.43 per capita) and do others also attend the live performing arts? These two do not necessarily conflict and they may well complement each other, so the answer to both questions is very probably “yes.”

There is a long-held practice of associating “active arts participation” with the traditional live arts—ballet, symphony, opera, theater—which are normally produced and presented by nonprofit entities. But we can also gain a sense of local engagement through attendance and expenditures on popular entertainment that includes rock, hip-hop, and country as well as comedy and other forms of stage entertainment.

The four indicators posted the week of July 25 specifically examine what share of the adult population attends popular entertainment as well as the live performing arts based upon estimates by Scarborough Research.

We complement this indicator with another, measuring per capita expenditures on popular entertainment as well as the number of performing arts organizations per 100,000 residents (with a national average of 6.19 organizations per 100,000 residents). Together these four indicators may suggest how your community attends performances.

You may be surprised to find that in some metropolitan counties the share of the adult population attending live performing arts (with a national average of 36.3 percent and a national median of 31.3 percent)  is actually higher than popular entertainment  (with a national average that is similar at 36.8 percent and a national median slightly higher at 35.2 percent).

Some clear examples of places where the live performing arts are higher include San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Washington, DC. Keep in mind that with Scarborough data that all forms are added together, so one person may attend more than one type of performing arts or popular entertainment. Or more people may attend only once.

But take a moment to see how your own county stacks up. You may find that correlates to the number of performing arts organizations per capita. Or it may be a function of other factors in your community. What do these values suggest to you?

Also released this week is a grouping of arts education indicators. As with much of the Local Arts Index, these indicators help to craft a picture of character—not good or bad, but what are the influences of arts, arts education and other factors on our community. Here we examine both the presence of arts at the college and university level, and pair two indicators that may suggest the level of arts education activity for K–12.

Two indicators are particularly interesting as they measure the number of accredited degree granting programs (performing and visual arts degrees) and the number of visual and performing arts degrees granted between 2003–2009. Both of these measures suggest a variety of points to consider.

You may be in a community that has a relatively small population but still enjoys a robust arts presence through a college or university. Do these institutions serve as the center of arts activities, as presenters of performing arts and a concentration of visual arts activity (galleries, exhibitions, etc.)?

Even in larger communities these institutions serve as the locus of artists in the community. Other ways for higher education to affect the arts is when faculty and students engage in the arts off-campus, as arts consumers and as educators.

When beginning to look at K–12 arts education we have released two indicators that pair well. One examines whether there is any presence of nonprofit organizations focused on arts education (expressed as a value per 100,000 residents). The other is the number of arts educators that are members of four professional associations of K–12 arts educators: Educational Theatre Association; National Art Education Association; National Association for Music Education; and, National Dance Education Organization. This is also calculated per 100,000 residents.

In a time period when arts education is imperiled across the country, professional associations serving K–12 arts educators have an especially important role in supporting the teachers who actually deliver arts education services to students.

The four main disciplines that make up the bulk of the arts curriculum in the U.S. are art, music, dance, and theatre. The four associations generously provided membership data for the Local Arts Index. We were provided membership data on where the members live (by zip code) and we were able to convert this into a total number per county, which we report as the number of educators per 100,000 residents. This indicator provides a measure of the density of skilled, educated arts professionals in a community.

Not surprisingly there is a wide range of per capita membership in these professional societies, with big cities having relatively small per capita numbers, and more sparsely populated counties having large ones even though they have smaller total numbers. Bear in mind that in some communities there may be a high number of educators though they may work in other counties (for instance, large suburban counties near a major metropolitan area).

What is the value for your county and how does that compare to other communities like yours? Does the value surprise you? Does arts education have a strong presence in one or more school district in your community? Do you see any correlation with the number of educators and other indicators such as expenditures on musical instruments?

Along with arts educators we examine the concentration of arts education nonprofits, also expressed as a value per 100,000 residents. These organizations include arts education organizations, nonprofit arts schools, and performing arts schools.

So with these four indicators we look at presence across the spectrum of education, from K-12 and in higher education. Both are important factors in a community and contribute to the character of what we learn and what we experience where we live.

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.