The arts are losing young people and minorities from their audiences, a new national study shows, but that doesn't appear to be happening in Charlotte.
Cultural groups here are working to make the city an exception to the national trend.
A new analysis of data compiled by the National Endowment for the Arts since 1982 shows blacks and Latinos have suffered from a collapse in arts education, and that their young-adult rates of arts attendance have declined far more than for whites.
In Charlotte, Blumenthal Performing Arts has aimed at broadening its audience by scheduling "programs that are relevant to diverse communities," president Tom Gabbard said.
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The Broadway hit "In the Heights" and comedian Carlos Mencia have drawn Hispanics. African-Americans have gravitated toward the Slam Poetry and Youth Slam Poetry programs, "Dreamgirls," "Drumline Live" and this week's Garth Fagan Dance.
Blumenthal has also directed promotional efforts at black donors to the Arts & Science Council who hadn't attended the center's programs, said public relations coordinator Danny Knaub. That helped bring more than 400 newcomers to the center for "Drumline Live," for instance.
At Opera Carolina, the 25-to-40 age group is the second-largest demographic in the company's audience, general director James Meena says, and audience diversity has grown since the company decided in 2003 to focus on it. African-American, Hispanic and Asian singers appear regularly in leading roles.
Childhood arts education "has played a vital role... in developing a potential audience" for the arts, the researchers from the University of Chicago wrote. "If these trends continue, the health of the arts ecosystem will be in jeopardy."
Another study released recently by the NEA contradicts the thought that declining arts attendance in recent years reflects a failure to recruit post-baby boom generations to follow their elders into performance halls and museums.
As a whole, the second study suggested, newer generations are not significantly less inclined toward the arts - instead, there just aren't enough of them to go around.
The most recent survey showed 34.6 percent of Americans attended an arts event in 2008, down from 39.4 percent in 2002. The authors are Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg of the University of Chicago (arts education) and Mark Stern of the University of Pennsylvania.
The education study found that declines began with the generation that began school in 1972, coinciding with reductions in school budgets.
In 2008, 58 percent of whites ages 18 to 24 reported having taken at least one arts class during their life, a 2 percent drop from 1982. The drop was much bigger for the nation's two largest minorities - from 51 percent to 26 percent for blacks, and from 47 percent to 28 percent for Latinos.
The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who said they had attended at least one arts event the previous year fell slightly for whites during the 26 years - from 44 percent to 42 percent. Attendance rates for nonwhites fell from 38 percent to 25 percent.
The challenge, the authors say, is to end policymakers' "fundamental misunderstandings and underestimates" of arts education's value, which will require research linking specific arts schooling to gains in educational achievement.
The study on age and arts attendance found that the reason audiences are getting older is not that today's young people are less interested in the arts, but that there simply are too few of them.
The share of 18- to 29-year-olds in arts audiences fell, Stern found, 3 percent - a difference that's "extremely modest." While the aging of the arts audience is real, he said, it's mainly because fewer young people are available, rather than young people being less interested than their boomer parents were at the same age.
Staff writers Steven Brown and Michael Weinstein contributed.