The National Endowment for the Arts released the results of its latest Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), the country’s largest, most representative survey of adult cultural activities, late last month. And once again, Colorado came on strong. While this city still has a reputation as a sports town, it also tops the country in many arts categories.
“We’ve been consistently good,” says Margaret Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries, which heads this state’s arts efforts. But this round, Colorado did even better. “We went up in attendance at performances, we went up in attendance at exhibitions,” Hunts notes.
Since 1982, the NEA has partnered with the U.S. Census Bureau to produce the SPPA; this report analyzed data from 2017. That year, Colorado ranked number one in the country for adults attending art exhibits (42.1 percent compared to a national average of 22.7 percent), and again rated at the top of all states for adults attending performing arts events at 66.5 percent, compared to the national average of 48.5 percent. This round, those performing arts events included music, and that’s one reason that the state continues to research the music business.
“We proudly boast the highest concentration of music venues (per capita) of any state in the U.S.,” Hunt says. (That’s a stat that Rolling Stone echoed in a recent story on Denver as a music city.) And Governor Jared Polis is about to name a new Colorado Music Ambassador, which should only improve the state's reputation in that area.
But Colorado isn’t resting on its creative laurels. “One area that we’re watching, an area of concern for us, is access for low-income populations,” Hunt explains. “Part of what we’re working on right now is focusing on counties by per capita income, with the lowest at the top, and we’re in the early stages of thinking about what strategies we’re utilizing to reach them.”
She notes that 35 percent of Americans surveyed by the NEA did not agree with this statement: “There are plenty of opportunities for me to take part in arts and cultural activities in my neighborhood or community.”
“This is why we think creative place-making is so important,” Hunt explains, “and why we spend a great deal of effort and resources as a state to encourage the formation of creative arts districts. This program was established in statute in 2012 with the certification of two districts. Today there are 26 state-certified creative districts, an astonishing growth in seven years. I feel this growth is due to the value our residents place on arts engagement as validated by this national research.”
The NEA report points to a "new participatory culture" in the U.S., a trend marking people turning away from a "world where a few gifted artists produced works that would be consumed and admired by many" toward "a world where many are producing works that can be circulated among smaller niche publics...Americans seek interactions that are personally meaningful, immediate and relevant."
And Colorado Creative Industries is going to continue to push such arts interactions wherever, and however, it can. “We just continue to be the national innovator,” Hunt concludes. “This state is amazing.”
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