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NEA: Art Creation Up, Attendance Down

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

If you write poetry or play an instrument or even sew in your free time, you might be reluctant to call yourself an artist, but the National Endowment for the Arts says you are an artist. Today, the NEA released the findings of a major study, a study it calls a vital index of our nation's creativity.

As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, more than a third of Americans make art in their free time, but they are spending less time and money going to watch the professionals.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Audiences are getting older and smaller. Attendants at live concerts, plays, dance performances and the like has declined dramatically in recent years. Patrice Walker Powell is acting chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ms. PATRICE WALKER POWELL (Chairwoman, National Endowment for the Arts): I was dismayed at the information we have on jazz and classical music - showing the graying of audiences continuing to gray.

BLAIR: The NEA surveyed some 18,000 adults about the art that they engaged over the last 12 months. Attendants to just about everything has gone down: parks and historical buildings, crafts and visual arts festivals. But Americans are still making art on their own. Sunil Iyengar is director of research and analysis for the NEA.

Mr. SUNIL IYENGAR (Director, Research and Analysis, NEA): For certain art forms you can see that the levels of creating or performing has remained steady despite the declines in attendance for these art forms.

BLAIR: Take jazz - while attendants to jazz concerts is way down, the percentage of adults who said they play jazz as a hobby is holding up.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

BLAIR: This is a recording by the Bluegrass Area Jazz Ambassadors, a group of scientists at the University of Kentucky who perform on side. Dr. Joe McGillis, an immunologist, plays alto sax.

Dr. JOE MCGILLIS (Immunology, University of Kentucky): I enjoy playing with a group of people, especially playing jazz, which is a very interactive medium of music.

BLAIR: As for going to concerts, Joe McGillis says he would go more if he could.

Dr. MCGILLIS: A lot of a great jazz clubs have closed.

BLAIR: The most popular art hobbies, according to the NEA study, are photography, which has actually increased - weaving, sewing, painting and drawing.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.