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Region's growing arts participation

Survey shows a rise in those who sing, dance, or attend concerts and visit museums.

The rest of the country may be turning in early, but in Philadelphia and environs, people are dancing - or at least watching other people dance - all over the place.

Results of a new survey that explores arts participation in the region show there has been a significant rise in the last two years, according to the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

The results are bundled into a measure dubbed the Cultural Engagement Index, to be made public Thursday. They indicate an 11 percent increase in cultural activity over 2009. The Cultural Alliance is seeking to double the index by 2020.

"During tough times, we reevaluate what matters most," said Tom Kaiden, alliance president. "Culture provides us with the insight, and creative outlet, to envision a better future."

Kaiden said it was ironic that as area residents demonstrate increasing involvement with the arts, the state House of Representatives has proposed cutting funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the main state arts agency, by more than 70 percent.

"We're talking about reducing our commitment to something that's working," Kaiden said.

The index measures traditional arts activities, such as museum and concert attendance; personal involvement with the arts, such as attendance at art classes; and personal participation, such as singing in a church choir or listening to music on the radio or Internet.

One thing emerges: People have gotten into dancing of late. The frequency of dance-performance attendance has risen 31 percent in the last two years. Attendance at ethnic or community dance events is up 15 percent. Social or party dancing is up 16 percent.

Party on.

Another striking finding contained in the index is the increasing importance of online arts activities.

Respondents listen much more to Internet radio than they did two years ago (listening is up 27 percent); 30 percent more people download music; 33 percent more people are creating music, videos, visual work, or text and sharing it online; and 29 percent more people remix online images, text, or music found online and share it.

Just as in 2009's index, African American and Latino residents are more involved in the arts than whites.

The overall increased arts involvement reflected in the index is broadly confirmed by audience attendance findings contained in the Pew Charitable Trust's State of the City, released a few months ago.

Nationally, although there are no comparable measures, broad survey results released annually by both the National Endowment for the Arts and Americans for the Arts typically show declines in arts attendance.

The Philadelphia cultural index, which is based on surveys from 3,000 residents from the seven counties within a 20-mile radius of the city, shows this area "is more than holding its own," said Kaiden.