November 2, 2010
The National Endowment for the Arts recently published “Live from Your Neighborhood: A National Study of Outdoor Arts Festivals”, which is the first survey of outdoor arts festivals and examines their make-up, demographics and role in community life. A typical response to the purpose of arts festivals was this one: “give the public the gift of art and culture, and promote cultural understanding, appreciation, and acceptance.” The majority of the arts festivals present a diversity of disciplines ranging from performing to visual arts and a diversity of styles from classical to experimental.
These festivals in effect become catalysts for expanding audiences by giving people a sampling of arts experience they would not seek out on their own. At the same time the survey underscored that these festivals are all about civic engagement as the majority of them depend on a volunteer corps in the hundreds and thousands to make them run. More than two-thirds of arts festivals occur in small to mid-size communities, a majority of them have been in the same town for more than a decade and most of them are free. Accompanying the survey are seven in-depth case studies on a variety of arts festivals at which additional information was gathered from audiences such as “more than two-thirds of audience survey respondents affirmed that the festivals have enriched community life.”