Participation in the Arts; Time and TV

There is a great website on the arts called Create Equity. They research and write about everything arts including the focus for today, participation in the arts. The question of who goes to arts offerings raises several other questions about leisure time, cost, and entertainment in general. Most important is to consider what does any of this have to do with the arts and education?

I have copied the summary of the Create Equity research on this topic below for your consideration. But before you read it, ask yourself, what is the number one media input in your life? If you are like many Americans, that answer is the television. In this second golden age of TV, 97% of Americans own a television. A computer and the internet access might be the second most common media input, and many Americans own a radio or listen to one in the car during their commute. For me, I get so much media input from these three sources that I then think, why should I go see a play and—pay that money—when I can see something like it on TV for free? The cost of cable should figure in here and the payment for the TV and internet are also costs. But what remains for me is the price of the ticket to plays, movies, and sporting events. When I went to baseball games in the seventies, we sat in the bleachers and had two beers and a dog, all for $10 bucks!

So I always think the cost is most defining of who participates in the arts. But the research below brings up cost as compared to income, and a host of other issues. And the reason I bring this all up is that our children get most of their arts from school and television, unless the arts have been cut from the curriculum, as they have been, steadily, in the last twenty years. In private schools the arts are very alive and art centers and theatres are more commonly being built instead of sports facilities.

I think it is important that we start to promote arts education for all students because it may be that doing your own art is the least costliest and most effective way you can get this benefit. And it is active work, as opposed to the passive arts consumption that may be offered on TV.

The arts are good for students in education because it builds their appreciation, understanding and academic achievement. The arts are inherently good for students because students learn about themselves while doing any of the arts. Students tend to be more engaged during arts instruction and they improve the aesthetic understanding needed by all students in order for them to judge the aesthetic part of their own lives. But the number one reason may be that doing your own art is the most affordable way to learn it and participate in it! So read below and consider what participation in the arts should mean for our citizens, both students and grads!


  • People with lower incomes and less education (low-SES) participate at lower rates in a huge range of activities, including not just classical music concerts and plays, but also less “elitist” forms of engagement like going to the movies, dancing socially, and even attending sporting events.
  • This is despite the fact that low-SES adults actually have more free time at their disposal, on average.
  • Cost is a barrier for some low-SES individuals who want to participate in the arts, but not as many as you might think. If we could somehow make it so that low-SES adults were no more likely to decide not to attend an exhibit or performance because of cost than their more affluent peers, it would hardly change the socioeconomic composition of audiences at all.
  • A major contrast to this dynamic is television. Ironically, the for-profit commercial TV industry is far more effective than our subsidized nonprofit arts organizations at engaging economically vulnerable members of our society. Not only do low-SES adults watch more TV, low-SES adults who don’t attend arts events watch even more TV than low-SES adults who do.
  • Where to go from here? We’d like to better understand why people make the choices they do before offering recommendations. At the very least, though, we can say that television should receive far more recognition than it does for its role in shaping the cultural lives of socioeconomically disadvantaged adults (Create Equity).
Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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