It's Who You Read
At the same time that the news spreads across artinfo.com, artforum.com, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, ABC News, etc., etc., that, according to an NEA survey, attendance at US Museums is declining:
The Art Newspaper reports instead that "Museum attendance rises as the economy tumbles":
A new report released by the National Endowment for the Arts said that the number of American adults attending arts and cultural events has sunk to its lowest level since 1982, which was when the NEA began conducting the poll.
The study, which was organized in partnership with the Census Bureau, noted that the downward trend was at least partially due to the deteriorating economic conditions of the last two years, including the rise in the price of gasoline and an overall drop in consumer spending.
But it also emphasized larger shifts in the American public's relationship to the arts. The report, which uses data collected in 2008, said that the share of adults who attended at least one arts event was 34.6%, down from 39.4% in 2002, which was the last time the survey was conducted.
Moreover, those who did attend arts events did so less frequently. The report found that the average number of attendances per individual was 5.2 in 2008, down from 6.1 in 2002.
It may be because of the relative bargain of a museum ticket, an increased popular interest in contemporary art, or just a rainy summer, but admissions at the majority of art museums in the US have been holding steady through the recession—and many are dramatically on the rise. A survey by The Art Newspaper of 20 museums across the country found that two-thirds have experienced a clear increase in visitor numbers over the past three years.Mind you, the discrepancy here is not just a matter of semantics (i.e., it's not that the NEA survey is centered on ALL arts and cultural events and The Art Newspaper survey was museums alone). According to artinfo.com:
The trend holds for institutions with free and paid admissions alike, and institutions that show contemporary art have seen the most clear-cut increase. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), one of the nation’s most expensive museums at $20 per ticket, had the best year in its 80-year history, bringing in 2.8 million visitors between 2008 and 2009. The size of its membership rose to a record 120,000. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective was its best-attended show yet, attracting 372,000 people. The New York museum has also broken its 2008 attendance record of just over one million.
According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, only 22.7 percent of Americans made a visit to a museum during 2008, down from a not altogether more impressive figure of 26.5 percent in 2008.Ignoring the suggestion that museum attendance for 2008 was compared with museum attendance in our parallel universe for 2008 (editor, shouldn't that be "only 22.7 percent of Americans made a visit to a museum during 2009"?), how is one to parse?
Perhaps the NEA survey included far more museums than 20. The Art Newspaper article does report, for example, that:
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, has seen a dip in visitor numbers, but its director Richard Koshalek has plans to reverse the slide (The Art Newspaper, November 2009, p12).But even so, they conclude that:
Overall, many institutions have been pleasantly surprised by how well they have fared since the economic crisis.Obviously, someone with more time that I have should compare the survey results and means to help get to the bottom of such extremely different results. Any takers? Email your results to info [at] winkleman.com and I'll publish, with my adoration.