Wow, the preliminary report out from the National Endowment for the Arts (http://www.nea.gov/) about Public Participation in the Arts in 2008 makes depressing reading. "Persistent patterns of decline in participation for most art forms...", "Fewer adults are creating and performing art...", "Educated Americans are participating less than before...", etc. etc. Not cheery reading. Not only because it spells very hard times for all forms of activity in the arts world, but also because, to me, it presages continued impoverishment of the human spirit. Without art of one form or another, we are rendered less outward looking, less understanding of others, less able to find enrichment in our lives.
The best parts of the initial NEA report findings concern the Web. "The Internet and mass media are reaching substantial audiences for the arts", and "About 70% of U.S. adults went online for any purpose in the 2008 survey, and of those adults, nearly 40% used the Internet to view, listen to, download or post artworks or performances." Not surprising when one knows of the phenomenal growth of Facebook, for example, or when one watches what is happening in Iran at present thanks to the Web and connected media. More and more, it seems, our lives are being interwoven with the Web, and as an artist, one is keenly aware of needing to keep up and try and function in this new world. The rub, as always, is having enough time in the day to create art, deal with the Web, and still function as an ordinary person.
Nonetheless, when all is said and done, the Web is still only the vehicle that links visual art to a person who enjoys viewing it and, ultimately and ideally, a person who enjoys living with the art in daily life, off the Web. There is still that all-important dialogue that takes place between a piece of art and the person viewing it. This is where the NEA figures for museum attendance (an estimated 78 million or 35% of U.S. adults) are confirming what most museum directors already know with concern and alarm. Those dialogues with artworks are becoming less frequent, for previous years, such as 2002, showed that about 40% of adults went to museums.
A long article in the June edition of ART News (http://www.artnewsonline.com/) examines the role of museums and what the different directors are trying to do to stay viable and successful in the future. The options ranges from trendy to futuristic. Nonetheless, as Thomas Campbell, new director of New York's Metropolitan Museum, underlines, a great museum still has one essential mission : to enable a visitor to have that supreme experience of standing in front of some object, painting, drawing, sculpture, whatever... and "Suddenly you're responding to something physical, real, that changes your own perspective." That is what the arts are about, and that is why we need to keep the arts alive and healthy.