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National Endowment for the Arts Announces First-Ever National Survey of Outdoor Arts Festivals

United States
Survey queries more than 1,400 outdoor art festivals around the country

October 29, 2010, Washington, DC – In a first-of-its-kind report, Live from Your Neighborhood: A National Study of Outdoor Arts Festivals finds outdoor artsfestivals attract a range of audiences, they enhance their communities as creative placemakers, and they are a gateway to arts attendance.

“More than 100 million Americans attend arts and cultural festivals each year. It is time that we start to examine these festivals more closely,” said NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. In his message in the report, Landesman encouraged audiences to share their reactions to the survey on the NEA Art Works blog.

Live from Your Neighborhood is the first-ever survey of U.S. outdoor arts festivals. The survey analyzes data from 1,413 outdoor festivals in nearly every state and Washington, DC. The survey reflects a cross-section of outdoor arts festivals in artistic disciplines such as music, visual arts and crafts, dance, folk and traditional arts, theater, literature, and film. Festival audiences, programming, staffing, and finances are also reviewed. Seven case studies profile a variety of outdoor festivals in large and small communities around the country, such as the Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts and the Tamejavi Festival in Fresno, California. Arts festivals are one of the most popular arts activities according to the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, reflecting the growing demand for informal and interactive arts experiences.

Among the main findings:

Outdoor arts festivals are creative placemakers, and are integrated into the community. More than half of the festivals surveyed (59 percent) have occurred in their host communities for more than 10 years. Outdoor arts festivals are small-town affairs, with most festivals (77 percent) taking place in towns with fewer than 250,000 residents, and 39 percent of these in towns with fewer than 10,000 people. Festivals also provide education, employment, and volunteer opportunities to local residents. Outdoor arts festivals rely heavily on volunteers: 61 percent of festivals have year-round volunteer staff. On average, festivals have two to three paid, full-time, year-round staff, two to three part-time staff, and 15 volunteers. The case studies also reveal that volunteers provide professional services of significant value (marketing, event logistics, and fundraising) and take pride in their role as ambassadors for both the community and artists.

Most festivals have strong public-private partnerships, with 88 percent receiving support from corporate sponsors, foundations, or local, state, or federal government. Additionally, the case studies note that successful outdoor arts festivals present special challenges that require working partnerships with local government and public agencies. To best manage the myriad logistical and programmatic demands, festivals require support from municipal departments such as police, parks and recreation, tourism, street and sanitation services, and schools.

Outdoor arts festivals have diverse art forms and audiences. Typical outdoor festivals showcase many different art forms, with music (81 percent) and visual arts and crafts (67 percent) being the most common. Outdoor arts festival audiences are more representative of the U.S. population than audiences for many other types of arts activities; in general, Hispanic and African American audiences account for a higher percentage of audiences at outdoor arts festivals than at most ‘benchmark’ arts activities (such jazz or classical music concerts, opera, plays, ballet, or museums). Festivals yield a wide range of attendance rates, from fewer than 1,000 to 500,000 people or more. Nearly half (45 percent) of festivals reported audiences of fewer than 5,000 people, and another 25 percent reported 10,000-49,900 attendees. The largest festivals, attracting more than a half-million people, were in urban areas such as Chicago, Illinois, San Diego, California, and Washington, DC.

Outdoor arts festivals are a gateway to the arts. Many outdoor arts festivals share characteristics that make them appealing to audiences. Most festivals are free (59 percent), and many others offer discounted tickets. Festivals present high-quality, curated arts programming for audiences. Most outdoor arts festivals (64 percent) feature arts education opportunities. In the case studies, audiences said they liked the informal, family friendly setting where they can talk directly with participating artists. Audiences also said that they discovered art they would not have sought out on their own, suggesting that outdoor arts festivals are a bridge to new kinds of arts attendance.

The report will be presented at the fall meeting of the National Council on the Arts on Friday, October 29. Attending as respondents to the report will be Neil Barclay, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and Jennifer Pickering, Executive Director of the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.

The NEA is the only federal agency to conduct reliable and nationally representative research on significant topics affecting artists and arts organizations. For more than 30 years, the NEA Office of Research & Analysis has produced periodic research reports, brochures, and notes on arts participation among American adults and youth, arts organizations, and the arts labor force, often in partnership with other federal agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau.The NEA is committed to extending the conversation about arts participation by making data available to both the research community and the public at large.

Live from Your Neighborhood: A National Study of Outdoor Arts Festivals and other NEA research are available in the Research section of the NEA website.
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