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UNC students buoy arts attendance

Buttressed by the power of UNC’s arts classes, art programs in the area are bucking a trend in a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts, which reveals attendance for arts and cultural events dropped in the decade leading up to 2012.

On Monday, the NEA released a series of reports on select arts like classical music, jazz, theater, ballet and art museums with a focus on supply, demand and motivations for consumer behavior.

Tonu Kalam, conductor for the UNC Symphony Orchestra, said he doesn’t see the national data as discouraging.

“It is a sign of things changing. Some things are always going to be the same such as audiences going to be a certain age range,” he said.

For the 2013-14 Carolina Performing Arts season, there was a 36 percent growth in average number of attendees per performance from 2012-13 and 10 percent growth in average number of UNC student attendees per performance.

“We are lucky because we are in a college campus, rich cultural area, and get audience support — it is inspiring and makes our work worthwhile,” said Mark Nelson, spokesman for the Carolina Performing Arts.

Nelson said students have made up 37 percent of total audiences for CPA events in this academic year.

Through programs like Arts at the Core, UNC students are required to go to performances as part of courses and receive free tickets to the events.

Forty-three classes have attended at least one performance in 2014-15, up from 22 classes in 2012-13.

Attendance numbers at the Ackland Art Museum from the fall have also increased, with attendance up 7.5 percent, said spokeswoman Emily Bowles.

Kalam said half the UNC Symphony Orchestra is non-music majors. Even if they are not becoming professionals, they will become future audience members, donors and supporters of the arts, he said.

Sunil Iyengar, the NEA’s director of research & analysis, said these reports will be useful in helping managers and policy makers cultivate more public engagement in the arts — offering tangible evidence of the arts’ importance to the nation’s economy, while allowing industry leaders to monitor the health of the arts sector.

For the first time in the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, researchers asked people whether they had attended the arts in childhood. They found adults who attended performing arts or visited art museums as children were, as adults, three to four times more likely to do so as those who did not.

“Arts and cultural production contributes three-quarters of a trillion dollars to the GDP. The arts represent 50 percent of the creative economy,” Iyengar said. “And these numbers arise from large numbers of Americans creating and enjoying the arts every day.”

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