“And there is currently no reason to believe the trend will stop”. The common fate of arts

1 Nov 2016

Classical music is not the only musical genre that has complains about the decade-long decrease of attendance. Other genres such as jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop etc. experience the same problem.


A broader look reveals that attendance to live events has gone down not only in music, but in all traditional arts and entertainment venues of the Western world.


Numerous studies and surveys conducted in the past few years have showed that opera, balet, theater, cinema, literature, poetry, fine arts, graphic and plastic arts, even street art, are not near as popular as they were before.


Just for example, some numbers on the attendance decline in the USA from 2002 to 2012, according to  the National Endowment for the Arts: art museums - 21.0%; musicals - 15.2%; classical music - 8.8%; non-musical plays - 8.3%; jazz - 8.1%; ballet - 2.7%; opera - 2.1%.  Parallel trends can be observed in Canada, Europe and Australia.


To complete the picture, the church attendance and live attendance of sport events are declining also.


So what's this all about?

What are people doing instead of taking part in cultural, spiritual and sport events?


The answer is simple: they are busy looking at the screens of their gadgets. Digital technology is what eats up their time.


In its study of digital natives Refuel Agency has found that


“... time spent using technology in a given day is 17.3 out of 24 hours, with smartphones taking up 6.3 hours of that. TV and computer use accounted for 3.5 hours each.”  (Report: Digital Natives Do Everything From Mobile Devices).


It’s a kind of shocking for the individual of pre-digital age.


Actually, the last decade saw the emergence of a new time consuming phenomenon in people’s lives – the need to be connected to the virtual world.


Never before the “horizontal” communication between individuals has been so intense. Never before people had such overhelming possbilities to get information and to entertain themselves in untraditional ways.


I am not here to debate whether this transformation is a good or a bad thing for society as a whole. It already exists and is rapidly progressing. People are on the edge of being connected to the virtual reality 24/7, i.e. everywhere and always. It's inevitable.


The point is, the more time and energy they spend on gadgets, the less time and energy could be devoted to traditional ways of consuming culture.


To text, to share pictures, to post links, to broadcast personal life, to play computer games, to follow cybersport events, to watch TV on smartphone, etc. has become a new culture, new rapidly growing field of social exprerience, different way to occupy the mind and to spend time.


That means that the difficulties and the challenges classical music is experiencing are not special. They are difficulties and challenges of the present culture upon the whole.


Many remember the article “Requiem. Classical music in America is dead” (2014)  by Mark Vanhoenacker which has made a lot of noise and  produced the state of confusion among classical musicians.


 A great deal of articles of the same kind have appeared and are contunuing to appear in all other fields of culture:


● Jazz Musician Says Genre is Dying


● Rock Is Finally Dead. It Was Murdered


●Cinema Is Dying: How Movie Theaters Can Ensure Their    Survival


● Is Theatre Really Dying This Time?


● Street art is dying – and it's our fault


● Is Original Musical Theatre Dying or Are We Killing It?


● Is Opera Dying?


● Traditional Opera Is A Dying Art Among Modern-day Chinese


●The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur


● Portrait of the Artist as a Dying Class


● Architecture is Dead. Long Live Architecture


● Why our museums are dying


● Is poetry a dying art form?


● Poetry Is Dead. Does Anybody Really Care? 


● Is sculpture a dying art? 


● The novel is dead (this time it's for real)


● The Death of Fiction? 


● Is the Church Dying?


● America Is Not the Future of the Church


● Christianity Is Dying In Europe: Lowest Church Attendance Ever


This list can go on forever.  It’s wrong to think that “every art dies along” (paraphrasing Hans Fallada), because of their own special reasons. All of them are dying out together. Orchestras, museums, theatres and churches suffer from a common disease.


2800 churches are to be demolished in France over the coming years – it’s not a separate disgusting initiative of French government.  It’s a part of a single disrupting process in culture, the other part of which is empty museums and bankruptcy of orchestras.



In terms of economy, the situation was described by White Hutchinson company (one of the world’s leaders in the industry) that  has conducted in-depth research to identify trends in attendance and spending at various community-based, out-of-home, leisure venues including entertainment, the arts and sports:


“The most disturbing trend is that not only are we seeing a shift of spending to the digital world, but also the household spending for entertainment at bricks-and-mortar (out-of-home) entertainment venues is declining. Household entertainment spending on trips away-from-home decreased by one-third. A decrease occurred for all quintiles (groups of study) of household income…


These trends do not bode well for out-of-home entertainment venues of all types. They are losing both customers and revenue to the digital world with its more affordable, and perhaps more attractive, entertainment and social options. The digital world is a disruptive force to out-of-home entertainment. 


Unfortunately, many existing entertainment venues …. are ignoring the significance of the expanding offerings of the digital world and how they are slowing eroding the bricks-and-mortar market share.


... It doesn’t seem that significant today, but it is gradually taking market share away from brick-and-mortar venues every day, especially with the middle and lower socioeconomic customers. And there is currently no reason to believe the trend will stop”.


It means, there is no reason to believe that classical music will stop to lose its audience.


Global tendencies can not be resisted, but it’s in our power to adjust to them. We'll have to do it anyway. Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt (Seneca) - the fates lead the willing and drag the unwilling.



Photo: My collage from "The Love of Helen and Paris" by Jacuqes-Louis David, and Samsung Galaxy Note 5


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Violinist deeply rooted in classical tradition and concerned about the future of the genre >> more about the author 

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© Yevgeny Chepovetsky 2015-2017