If you're an artist who relies on the Internet to deliver your art, you'll be cheered by the recent report by the nonprofit group Americans for the Arts. If you're an arts group that relies on people to come out of their houses, to leave their computers, you won't.
I read about the report in this story in today's The Washington Post. It contains lots of information that you probably already suspected, like the fact that more people are getting their arts entertainment from their computers. It also contains some surprising facts, like more people are signing up to take ceramics courses. More people are also taking knitting classes, but that didn't surprise me.
The group found that a new arts organization is created every three hours. Every three hours! My first thought was hurray, Americans are devoted to the arts. My second was despair at all the statistics about who isn't going to which events: "Attendance at art museums was down 13 percent from 2003 to 2008, the index found, while audiences at popular music events were down 6 percent."
I'm glad I didn't follow my first inclination in college, which was to major in Arts Administration. I thought it would be a good way to combine my love of the arts, while giving me something practical to do for money. But I took an Accounting class, and that, as they say, was that. Blhh. I now wonder how my life might have been changed if I had taken a different sort of business class first, but I didn't. And it was 1984, and I was convinced that Ronald Reagan would detonate the nuclear bombs at any moment, so what I majored in didn't matter.
And here we are, twenty-five years later, still looking for that mushroom cloud. Well, I'm still waiting, but I realize I'm probably one of few who still occasionally anxiously scans the horizon for that telltale sign.
I can't complain too much about the Internet, however. I still think that the Internet keeps many of us artists more connected, both to each other and to potential audiences. I've bought most of the poetry books I've bought in the past few years because I love the blogs of the writers or because some of my favorite poets blogged about the books of other poets. I think that more people are reading my poems now that they're online, both on my blog and website and in online journals. Ten years ago, my poems appeared in paper journals with a distribution of 250 copies. How did those journals survive?
Well, as Steven D. Schroeder points out in a recent blog post, many of them don't. And in fact, the book itself may be obsolete. The Americans for the Arts report tells us that reading rates are plummeting. I know that many people are willing to say that in our lifetimes, books will cease to be published (except digitally). But I still love books as objects, much as I love LPs (those old vinyl records, for those of you who are too young to know the lingo). I will always hope for something that comes along to save them, even as I participate in the newer technologies.