Saturday, January 07, 2012

More Statistics That Are Useful for the Race and Theater Discussion

When Tom Loughlin first posted a lament over the latest Broadway League numbers at his Poor Player blog, I doubt he realized the firestorm he was kindling.

Indeed, the comments on that original post are cresting over 60, and several other blogs, most notably Parabasis, have been quick to really lay into Professor Loughlin.   His post has been called "offensive" and he has been declared an "enemy" and "disavowed" by some.. Yikes.

Today, 99 Seats (Playwright J. Holtham), one of the most vigorous critics of Loughlin's argument, laid out a post on Parabasis entitled OK Then, Lets Really Talk About It.  In this post he points out the trouble with the original premise of trying to extrapolate a whole lot about the culture of races and their attitudes towards theater attendance and participation from Broadway League numbers.

Indeed, this has been a common thread through the discussion up to this point.

I'm sure others have been doing this as well, but my first instinct, even before the whole thing blew up, was to take a look at the National Endowment for the Arts research - specifically their periodic Survey of Participation in the Arts.  Most all of their reports are available for free in PDF form.

However, the most interesting report, (and relevant to this discussion) is the report entitled:  Beyond Attendance; A Multi Modal Understanding of Arts Participation:

As far at the attendance figures go, all the reports pretty much confirm the Broadway League statistics that Tom Loughlin cites.  

Here is a graph from the latest Survey of Participation in the Arts in 2008:

Next is a graph from the Beyond Attendance report, looking at the Rate of Attendance based on demographics.  Which gets a little more specific.  

And, lastly, (I thought this was an interesting one,) This graph looks at the participation by demographic in the Creation of art.

In this graph, African Americans actually participate more in performing in non-musical plays.  

Interestingly enough, the NEA reports talk very frankly about differences in attendance rates by race.  Here is an example:

Generally, significant differences were observed across the demographic cohorts for arts-creation activities, as reported in Table 7. In other words, different arts-creation activities appeal to different groups of people. Although seemingly obvious, this general fact reveals interesting sub-results.
Some arts-creation activities seem highly correlated with race/ethnicity and might be part of cultural traditions and heritage. The highest rate of participation for African Americans across the creation activities encompassing the performing and visual arts is 10.3% — for “singing with a chorale, choir, or glee club or other type of vocal group.”Although the survey’s sample size for American Indians is too small to determine whether their participation rates are different from those of other racial/ethnic groups, they do appear to have the highest rates of participation for painting, drawing, and sculpture, for pottery and jewelry-making, and for weaving and sewing. If one subscribes to a philosophy of equitable access, and if one accepts that certain forms of arts creation are more likely to engage certain ethnic groups, then one can reasonably infer from the SPPA that investments in specific types of activities among distinct communities (e.g., supporting vocal music activities in predominantly African American communities) are likely to improve cultural equity. 

Anyway, just thought I would throw this out there.  As I said, the reports are readily available and very interesting reading.


Esther said...

Those are interesting statistics. What struck me is how few Americans attend any type of arts event. Also, ballet and opera are miniscule, which may reflect a lack of opportunity in many communities. I wonder what, if any, impact the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts in movie theaters have.

Ian Thal said...

Of course the problem with Tom Loughlin's analysis is that he focused almost exclusively on two metrics: 1.) Broadway attendance; and 2.) number of theatre companies devoted to African-American repertoire.

His conclusions, however, while erroneous, weren't actually racist. He merely went with the hypothesis that different cultural groups prefer to express their identity through different art forms or, alternately, prefer to consume different genres of a given art form. While the stats you presented seem to still support that particular hypothesis, the conclusions regarding attendance and participation don't square with Loughlin's conclusions.

All in all, this means that Loughlin is not perverting social science data to support a racist ideology, but merely being a poor social scientist and jumping to conclusions. As to the efforts of the Parabasis crowd label Loughlin as an "enemy"-- well, this is to be expected. They're always more comfortable creating lines of exclusion than actually engaging in debate, articulating lines of disagreement, or even making a coherent argument for their own positions.

Thomas Garvey said...

Oh, Art, it's no use trying to make reasonable points with the Butler/Holtham circus. You just have to sit back and enjoy the relentless blood sport. How any of these people imagine they're idealists - or even nice, for that matter - is certainly beyond me!

Art said...

@Esther - The NEA has actually done research on electronic engagement with the arts.

Obehi Janice said...

this is fascinating. this is really important.

Ally said...

In your last graph, how can you tell African-Americans participate more in performing non-musical plays? It's just saying that 1.2% of African-Americans perform in non-musical plays vs. 0.8% of whites perform in them. Since African-Americans only made up 13.6% of the US in 2010, while 72.4% of the US are Caucasians (sorry if my statistics are exactly correct, but Caucasians greatly outnumber African-Americans), so that means that 1.2% of 13.6% is much less than 0.8% of 72.4%....

Art said...

Hi Ally,

Thanks for the comment.

Sorry if it wasn't clear, but I wasn't trying to say there were more African Americans participating. I was just restating the findings of the NEA study, which says that more of a percentage of African Americans participate in the creation of non-musical plays than the percentage of Caucasians.