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BOOMERS, XERS NOT MUCH HELP TO ARTS

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Art institutions can now add another worry to their concerns over shrinking financial resources and worsening political criticism: Neither baby boomers nor the younger members of Generation X show strong interest in the arts, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The study reports that among adults born after 1945, attendance for classical music concerts, operas and musical theater has declined. The pace-setting boomers, who make up 77 million Americans, and the members of Generation X - adults born since 1965 - make up a larger proportion of audiences for art museums, dramatic plays and ballet.But overall, neither demographic group is keeping pace with the World War II generation in support for, and interest in, the arts. The prospects for building future audiences have been severely jeopardized, according to the study, which notes that although the rate of participation is much lower for everyone born after 1945 than for older Americans, members of Generation X are showing even less interest in the arts than the boomers are.

This flies in the face of general expectations that middle-aged and younger people, who on the whole are better educated and earn more money than their elders, would naturally have greater interest in the arts. Instead, these age groups increasingly are customizing their own artistic activity at home, through recordings, television, videos and the like.

The study was undertaken to provide "a snapshot in time" of "consumers of artistic expression" in eight fields: classical music, opera, ballet, musical theater, jazz, dramatic plays, art museums and novels. The data is based on telephone and in-person interviews of more than 12,000 adults, conducted in 1982 and 1992 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey was written by a team of university sociologists.

The study found that the prime supporters of its designated artistic activities are those born from 1936 to 1945. This isn't good news for a number of artistic disciplines since, the study points out, as they age these people will be less inclined to attend live events.

The study, titled "Age and Arts Participation," shows that art museums attract the largest numbers of patrons among all age groups; in fact, their attendance is up somewhat. However, the study warns, that doesn't change the basically downbeat overall situation.

"In an increasingly hostile environment for cultural endeavors, if the largest segment of the adult population - the baby boomers - turns away from providing support and from participating actively in core art forms, the future of the arts is indeed grim," said the study's authors.

Indirectly, the study's conclusions raise questions about the long-term prospects for arts education, which are in doubt in most parts of the country, and for audience development programs, which have been subsidized by many foundations.

Only jazz, art museums and dramatic plays had steady or increased participation among all age groups. The other forms saw a decline. In every arts activity, people with more education participated in greater numbers. And the decade saw across-the-board gains in participation by blacks, as well as "empty nest" people, those whose children are grown.

At the same time, the rate of participation among younger adults was disappointing. "The fact that young college-educated adults in 1992 were less likely to attend live arts performances and events than their counterparts in 1982 is extremely worrisome," the report concludes. "Those individuals should be the vanguard of adult arts audiences."