by John Stoehr
Doug McLennan over at ArtsJournal continues examining the nature of American mainstream culture, this time by offering the notion of an "arts culture" that has increased since the 1960s while mass culture, via television, has diversified since then. He writes: "I'm not even arguing that the audience for classical music rivals that for the pop star du jour. My point is this: Since most culture is defined in part by its relationships with the other cultures around it, if mass culture is losing its ability to gather huge audiences, and arts culture is growing, the relationship between the two needs some redefinition."
Here are some of his statistics:
In 1950 there was only one full time orchestra in America. In 1965, there were only three state arts commissions. Now there are 18 full 52-week orchestras, and more than 3,000 arts commissions at the local and state levels. The 1990s were the biggest expansion of arts activity in American history; we went on a construction binge, building more than $25 billion worth of new museums, theatres, concert halls and cultural centers. Since 1990, almost one-third of all American museums have expanded their facilities. Major American museums such as the Met and the Museum of Modern Art are now so crowded the experience of visiting them has degraded.
The number of performing arts groups is up 48 percent since 1982. Last year American music schools graduated more than 14,000 students, and new fine art academies are popping up all over and overflowing with students. There are more than 250,000 choruses in America - that's choruses, not people in choruses. That means that more than four million people a week are getting together to sing. There are at least that many book clubs. Opera attendance is up 40 percent since 1990. Band instrument sales are at an all-time high, and in cities like Seattle, where I live, the youth orchestra program is so crowded, more and more orchestras have been added. Culture is a $166 billion industry, accounts for 5.7 million jobs and is America's top export.