NEA study: Technology helps participation in arts
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Technology, from the Internet to CD players, stimulates rather than discourages attendance at arts events, concludes a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts called "Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation."
In a report released Thursday, the NEA said, "There is a strong relationship between media arts participation and live arts attendance, personal arts performance and arts creation."
In statistical terms, the study found that audience members who listened or watched performances on electronic or digital devices (TV, radio, CDs/DVD, computer or MP3 player) outnumbered those who did not by about 3 to 1. The same proportion held true for those who participated in an arts performance, while the rate was higher for people engaged in "arts creation" -- 44 percent to 16.3 percent.
"Adults who reported viewing or listening to the arts through electronic media showed higher rates of live arts attendance, personal performances and arts creation, even after statistically controlling for various demographic characteristics," the report said.
The study, conducted in 2008 among 18,000 respondents polled by the U.S. Census Bureau to gauge participation in the arts, also determined that "half of all U.S. adults neither attend live events nor use media to engage in 'benchmark' (traditional venues such as art galleries, theaters or concert halls) arts activities."
Among those who avoided the arts all together, Hispanics, African-Americans, rural inhabitants and those with a high school education were among the highest percentages.
The study also sought to quantify how reading is affected by electronic devices, concluding that "21 percent of Americans (46 million adults) either read or listened to a novel, short story or poem and 42 percent (93 million adults) read articles, essays or blogs."
The study did not break down reading activities by devices, including the electronic book reader.
"Given the relatively high rate of young adults who engage in literature through media, the overall rate of literary participation via media may increase markedly in the future," said the study, without citing the fast-rising numbers of e-book sales.
"We are faced with the Internet, social media and other new technologies, and I believe the arts field must embrace them and integrate them into our work," said NEA chairman Rocco Landesman.
Echoing Mr. Landesman's words were Pittsburgh arts organizations that have expanded their websites to offer information and interactive participation among their audiences.
At the Mattress Factory on the North Side, visitors have a choice of three programs "designed to engage them," said Jeffrey Inscho, marketing coordinator.
One is a special bar code that can be scanned by cell phones to provide visitors with more context to the exhibitions; another is the "I Confess" option, where their impressions of the gallery are recorded and uploaded to YouTube.com; and the third is a large TV screen that displays text messages and photos from the public.
All can be checked on the gallery's website (mattress.org) at the feature Friendship 2.0. The Mattress Factory also actively employs Facebook and Twitter to communicate with its members and visitors.
"Our goal is basically to create a relationship between us and our visitors," Mr. Inscho said. "You have to do it. It allows us to engage with people both on and off site and build relationships."
Andrew J. Swensen, director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, agrees with Mr. Inscho about the Internet's importance.
"We find it's more effective to use social media, not so much as a marketing tool, but as a productive way to cultivate a dialog with our constituents and be a content provider as well," he said.
Filmmakers also is crafting what Mr. Swensen called a "broader strategy of informing our audiences of other arts organizations and events.
"Along with letting our people know about our films, we're telling them about plays, gallery crawls, things like that."
Mr. Swensen added that Web expansion is in the works for the organization's Three Rivers Film Festival in November.
"We're working on a cohesive social media strategy that will take our media effort to a new level."
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust covers galleries, dance, theater and music and attracts a wide age range of audiences. It's proceeding more deliberately in its plans to increase its use of digital and Internet technology, said Kevin McMahon, Trust president and CEO.
"We are actively using Facebook, Twitter and sites like those in our promotion activities, but it's still very much a work in progress," he said. "It's fairly clear to us that you cannot eliminate more traditional ways to do marketing. You do it at your peril. Then again, failing to move forward with social media is something we do at our own peril, too."
Mr. McMahon described the trust's policy as a "bifurcated approach" to advance the trust's programs. Its Wood Street Gallery is internationally recognized for its electronic art installations and more than a third of its ticket sales are online.
"Our electronic side is more concentrated on the visual arts, but it's not limited to it," he said, citing the Dance Council's use of technology in its performances.
"No matter how we do it, our ultimate aim remains bringing large numbers of people together Downtown for live performances," he said.
Use of the Internet's international reach and interactive nature is expanding at the Andy Warhol Museum, said director Tom Sokolowski.
"We do a lot with our sites. You can find us via Facebook, Twitter, all those sites," he said. "We have 99,000 followers on Twitter this month and 7,000 on Facebook. Our site had 980,000 hits that were longer than 15 minutes."
Fifteen is the operative number for The Warhol, from its namesake's famous quote about fame to plans for a second website called "15" that Mr. Sokolowski said will consist of user content including the posting of images. The new one should be up by the end of the summer.
The museum also is seeking bloggers from around the world and mounting interactive features on its sites.
"We have so much interest in using the 'Net," he said, "because we feel we can give our users a rich experience via technology."
First Published July 2, 2010 12:00 am