Let's have a Kumbaya moment.
Let's gather together and blow air kisses, placing daisies in each other's hair while we jangle our tambourines. Let's hold hands and jump in the air all at once, twiddling our toes like an army of fluttery ballerinas. With our teeth, let us all form one big smile and shine it at each other.
And with our eyes, let's take a collective look at the 2008 Public Participation in the Arts survey, as sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts:
“There are persistent patterns of audience decline for most art forms. … Attendance at art museums and craft/visual arts festivals is down severely. … between 1982 and 2008, attendance at performing arts such as classical music, jazz, opera, ballet, musical theater and dramatic plays has seen double-digit rates of decline. … receptive audiences are rapidly aging, and educated Americans are participating in the arts less than before.”
Um, hey ...
You dropped your tambourine.
OK, there's good news too. According to the NEA, for the first time in 25 years Americans are reading more books. And interest in the arts is still high. But more adults, in all age groups, are using the Internet to download and experience music, theater and dance performances instead of buying tickets. This fact — one of many inescapable changes in our cultural landscape — has forced long-entrenched arts organizations to rethink and reinvent how they'll function and survive in the immediate future. This may not invite a Kumbaya moment, but transformation and rejuvenation are not altogether negative things.
Our annual Fall Arts Preview showcases hundreds, even thousands of reasons why the arts are still relevant and alive in Richmond, and beyond. But our ace critics and contributors also pose hard questions about the future of the work as well as the nature of it, the fun as well as the funding. If the arts community is going to indulge in Kumbaya moments — and they can be damn fun, no doubt about it — let's have them be enlightened and better informed Kumbaya moments.
“If something is possible in art, it's thinkable in life,” the musician and producer Brian Eno once said. If that's true, there will be a lot to think about in the coming months for performers, producers and audience members. Pick up your tambourine and take a look. — Don Harrison