From what people on the other side of the fence tell me, attendance is more unpredictable than ever before at museums and galleries. Though many factors are likely responsible for this, I want to encourage institutions to keep considering the potential impacts of:
(a) my dead-horse-I-like-to-keep-flogging, high admission fees;
(b) the demise of arts education for children in both the public-school realm and the civic-service realm (this demise is exacerbated, I would argue, by those high admission fees, and by the lack of interest institutions seem to take in any government policies other than institutional-funding ones).
Along the latter lines, I came across some interesting insights on developing the "art habit" this weekend. These insights came purely by happenstance; my husband teaches music to young children, and he had borrowed some books on the topic from the library. (Thanks library!) One of these, At the Beginning: Teaching Piano to the Very Young Child by Rhoda Rabin, had this to say in the chapter "Art and the Art Habit":
What is the "art habit"? It is the love for and practice of art, the incorporating of formal expressions of beauty into the life of an individual, in our case, the young child. Our objective with early piano lessons is to develop the art habit in children, and to make the piano as natural a part of life as the telephone or the bicycle.
The cornerstone of teaching music to the young child is the absolute belief that young children can be accomplished artists: accomplished not in terms of the size or complexity of their repertoire, but in terms of their ability to produce beautiful sounds and respond to beauty, in learned as well as instinctive ways. Is it naive or overly romantic, this idea of the child as artist? Experience shows that it is not. Whether or not a child is precocious in other areas of his or her life, he or she can make music and experience the extraordinary dimension this power lends to a young life.
Young students are as deserving of the finest artistic instruction as conservatory students are. From the first moment the child touches the keys, we are teaching art—not "art readiness."
In quoting Rabin, I don't mean to imply that arts education is the be all and end all.
But I do think that arts institutions like museums and public galleries would be wise to pay serious (and not just nominal) attention to it, especially given that the National Endowment of the Arts has stated that "Arts education in childhood is the most significant predictor of both arts attendance and personal arts creation throughout the rest of a person's life."
Wondering how Ontario is doing on this front? Better than in the Harris era, but still not great, according to People for Education's 2010 Annual Report:
Less than half of Ontario's elementary schools have specialist music teachers on staff. A further 28% have itinerant music teachers who may be in the school a few times a week for programs such as band or strings, or acting as the music teacher. Only a very small proportion of music teachers are full-time, and generally in very large schools.
There are even fewer schools with specialists in the other arts. In schools with grades 7 and 8, only 18% report having a visual arts teacher, and 8% have a drama teacher.
Students' access to rich arts programs often depends on the abilityof their parents to fundraise, or, in secondary school, the flexibility of students' schedules and their capacity to pay fees.
Most schools rely heavily on parent fundraising to support the arts. This year, over 40% of elementary and secondary schools reported raising funds for the arts. Last year, 23% of secondary schools charged fees for music classes and 54% charged fees for art classes. Students who attend schools in more affluent areas, where fundraising amounts tend to be higher, are thus more likely to have access to arts enrichment.
I really think that if museums and galleries are worried about attendance in the long term, they need to focus on arts education for youth and adults, and reconsider their admission fees and programs in light of developing the "art habit" as well.
(Image from The Great Musician blog)