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Study Finds Arts in America Are Ailing

A new study released Monday has found that the arts in America are ailing. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Americans for the Arts released its latest National Arts Index, which tracks arts vitality nationally by looking at a range of 81 indicators--everything from sales of books and musical instruments to copyrights filed and symphony seats filled. The group found that in 2009, the most recent year analyzed, arts vitality across the country hit a 12-year low.

A number of reasons accounted for the historic low. One of them was the near erosion of philanthropy for the arts over the past decade. Arts giving fell from five percent of total philanthropy to four percent, which amounted to billions in lost revenue for cash-strapped arts organizations. Financial stress exacerbated by the recession was another reason for the 12-year low: more than forty percent of arts non-profits went into debt due to the recession. Corporate giving and government grants to the arts were down in the last ten years as well.

The study found that New York City's art institutions were not immune to the nationwide trends. In a separate study published last year, the local arts advocate group Alliance for the Arts found that 61 percent of the city's arts non-profits were forced to slash their budgets in 2010. Forty percent had to cancel programs.

However, the Alliance for the Arts says there are indications of recovery. "We saw some hopeful signs despite large cutbacks projected for the coming year," said Anne Coates, the organization's vice-president. "And we see that as a sign that the arts are resilient." Across the board, losses were smaller in 2010 than they were in 2009.

Andrea Louie of the Asian-American Arts Alliance thinks that some of the problems afflicting arts organizations and artists run deeper than the recession. "So much art is free now and available online," said Louie. "I think there's a sort of cultural expectation that we can enjoy these things without necessarily supporting the making of them, so maybe there's some cultural education that we have to advance as well."

The National Arts Index wasn't all gloomy forecasts for the arts in America. In the past decade, the number of arts non-profits almost doubled--from 75,000 to 110,000. Songwriter royalties also grew to $1.6 billion annually; the number of college arts degrees doubled; and wages for arts workers increased slightly. The study found some 2.2 million artists working in the United States.

"I personally do not feel that the vitality of the arts is at a low," said Louie. "Certainly, we're all struggling financially. But that doesn't mean that the spirit of making art and continuing that endeavor is flagging in any way."