A Snapshot of Arts Participation in the United States

Still Life with Apples by Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 - 1906) Oil on canvas France 1893 - 1894 Source: J. Paul Getty Museum. Currently on view at: Getty Center, Museum West Pavilion, Gallery W20 Used via the Getty's Open Content Program.
Still Life with Apples by Paul Cézanne (French, 1839 – 1906) Oil on canvas France 1893 – 1894 Source: J. Paul Getty Museum. Currently on view at: Getty Center, Museum West Pavilion, Gallery W20 Courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Last month The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) published research on the participation of Americans in the arts at both a national and state level. In 2015, approximately two-thirds of American adults attended at least one film or visual art or performance event within the last year. Films appeared to be the most popular choice (among both urban and rural residents) with 55 percent of adults reporting that they took in a movie, while 32 percent attended a live dance, music or drama performance, and 19 percent an art exhibit. Residents of urban areas attended live arts events (33 percent versus 21 percent) and movies (60 percent versus 46 percent) more than their rural counterparts.

The proportion of American adults reading literature (plays, poetry, novels – not work or school materials) declined from 47 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2015. Women (49.8 percent) reported reading literature more than men (35.9 percent). Generally, better educated respondents reported a higher level of literature consumption than those with less education.

Pennsylvania had a slightly lower rate of adults attending a live arts performance or movie than the national average (65.2 percent versus 66.2). Overall, Pennsylvania residents’ rates of arts participation via literature, art class enrollment, personal creation, or use of electronic media to experience the arts were not significantly greater or less than the U.S average. All state profiles and additional briefs on arts engagement are available at the NEA webpage.

Interview Series: Heidi Baldt Matthews, Co-Founder of E.L.C.O.

Throughout 2015 I will be posting interviews with nonprofit professionals from the Pittsburgh area. This is the first installment – an email question and answer session with Heidi Baldt Matthews. Heidi is Operations Director and Co-Founder of the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra (E.L.C.O.), a volunteer post that is truly a labor of love as her co-founder is also her husband, David Matthews. She was the Programming Coordinator at Gateway to the Arts for 10 years and just started as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at The Woodlands Foundation. Heidi was recently named to the board at Music on the Edge.

Photo credit: Carly V. McCoy
Photo credit: Carly V. McCoy

Name: Heidi Baldt Matthews

Years in the Pittsburgh area:  About 12 years – wow! Where does time go?

First job out of college:  Part Time Ticket Service Representative for ProArts Tickets

How were you drawn to nonprofit work?

I originally was looking to focus on the arts, not necessarily nonprofit.  My first full-time job was with Gateway to the Arts in 2004 and I was really enthusiastic and excited to help out in any way that I could. There I learned more about the challenges and opportunities encountered by nonprofits and generally more about how they function. I also learned that there was SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN.

In 2009, I decided to pursue a master’s degree to supplement my “real world” learning.  I considered a master’s in arts management, but found that Robert Morris University’s Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management program for M.S. in Nonprofit Management was a better fit for me.  I found it incredibly beneficial to have classmates in different stages of their careers within the nonprofit sector. It was really interesting to gain the perspective of how people from nonprofits outside of the arts approached the same situations.

I continue to be drawn to the nonprofit sector because it’s important to me to feel good about what I do. When I have a bad day it helps so much to reflect upon the good that is capable of coming out of what can sometimes be frustrating and tiring work.

How did E.L.C.O. come to be?

Starting around 2007 my then fiancé, David, kept encouraging me to start a theatre company as it was good match with my experience in stage management and bachelor’s degree in theatre from Point Park. I didn’t want to start a theatre company just for the sake of starting a theatre company…and I didn’t yet have a distinctive idea that I liked. That conversation went on for about a year.

One day David enthusiastically handed me a proposal for an experimental chamber music ensemble. He wanted to present classical music alongside pop and rock music to reach new audiences that had never experienced orchestral music before.  Without hesitation, I said, “Let’s do it.”

We placed an ad on Craigslist and put up fliers around town and at the universities with a call for auditions for volunteer experimental chamber musicians. We had folks auditioning in our tiny living room and David’s attic studio. It was nuts. The double bass player almost smacked the top of her instrument on our ceiling fan. The Brew House on the South Side helped us with performance space and support for our first concert in November 2008.

E.L.C.O. applied for and was granted nonprofit status at the end of 2013.  It was a big decision for us. I’m firmly of the opinion that an organization should not become a nonprofit just because it can. The three directors of E.L.C.O. (David Matthews – Artistic Director, Alan Tormey – Associate Creative Director and I) take this status very seriously. We experimented with different business models and strategies, and with the help of Greater Pittsburgh Art Council’s Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts program, determined that becoming a nonprofit was the best course for the ensemble.

But the real answer to how E.L.C.O. came to be is through the hard work and dedication of a kick-ass group of adventurous, resilient, talented, and incredible young, professional artists who volunteer their time and skills to making interesting music. They’re the best! They blow my mind.

 First thing you do each day?

  • 4:45am – 5:00am: hit snooze on my alarm (set to Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” as I find it motivating and not overly jarring as an alarm). Turn on podcast of choice.
  • 5:00am – 5:05am: Floss and brush teeth.
  • 5:05am – 5:10am: Turn on all the lights on the first floor of our home, then feed cat.
  • 5:10am – 5:30am: Caffeine and get dressed while scrolling through social media, email and/or the Internet. I have a love/hate relationship with my smart phone.
  • 5:30am-6:00am or 6:30am: Kickboxing DVD in my living room.
  • Breakfast and shower post-kickboxing. I am now prepared to interact with my fellow humans. Woe be unto whomever interferes with my morning routine.

Between your work and your leadership role with E.L.C.O. – what keeps you motivated?

The kick-ass artists who have dedicated, volunteered, and invested their time, talent, and skills into E.L.C.O.!  My brain sometimes likes to tell me that E.L.C.O. is too hard and that I can’t do it. When that happens, I remember those folks and I want to be as awesome as they are. I pick myself up and get I back to working on what I need to do.


New Hazlett Theater's CSA Program: The Radiophonic Fantasies of the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra .  Photo credit: Renee Rosensteel
New Hazlett Theater’s CSA Program: The Radiophonic Fantasies of the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra Photo credit: Renee Rosensteel

Share a favorite time-saving or productivity hack:

Do one thing at a time. When I actually do this, it works like MAGIC.

Getting enough sleep and being appropriately – but not overly – caffeinated. Again – MAGIC.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

If you can think of anything else you want to do, do that instead, otherwise the arts are too hard.  Work in the arts only because you can’t not do it.

What’s the best thing about the nonprofit sector in Pittsburgh?

The best thing is the sense of community and support that can be found here. All of the nonprofits I’ve approached regarding partnerships with E.L.C.O. have been so giving and filled with people that are a pleasure to work with.   Also, I really love the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, Greater Pittsburgh Art Council’s Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and the Carnegie Library Foundation Center.

What are you listening to right now?

John Cage’s  4’33”. It’s the only way David and I can work.

What do you hope to accomplish in 2015?

We had a great 2014 – we tripled our typical performance schedule, with one performance being the largest we’d embarked upon to date, including an international guest artist who specialized on the Ondes Martenot – are rare electronic instrument. This year, we plan to revisit our more typical production schedule.  We’re in the process of filing for our 501c3 status as well as planning a development strategy upon receipt of the new status.

We’re kicking off E.L.C.O.’s  2015 season with “Critical Band”, a concert of experimental orchestra music and ambient 90s shoegazer style stuff, on Sunday, March 15 – 2pm at the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland. I would also love to invite everyone reading this to considering joining The Secret Society of the Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra at the end of 2015. Check E.L.C.O.’s Facebook page and website for clues leading up to the initiation ceremony.

Trends in Student Arts Participation

The recently released brief Participation of Children in School Music or Other Performing Arts from the Child Trends Data Bank takes a look at trends in the level of student arts activity over the past two decades.  Some of the highlights:

  •  The percentage of 10th and 12th grade student participating in performing arts at school between 1991 and 2011 varied little, while the participation rates of 8th graders increased in 2011 after a  decline since 1991.


  • Participation in arts activities by boys drops off in the higher grades (grades 10, 12).


  • Students of parents with a higher level of education are more likely to be active in arts activities, although the gap in participation is larger in the 8th grade data than the higher grades.

Student participation in school arts activities may be a telling child indicator due to its correlation with future academic accomplishments.  A report from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) found that high-school youth with a high level of involvement in the arts (though classroom instruction or lessons, event attendance, and/or participation) were three time more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than peers without such involvement.  Their grades in college were also more likely to be higher.  Other NEA research indicates a strong relationship between arts education and involvement as a student and participation in the arts as an adult – specifically attendance at arts events.

What impact, if any, do you think arts involvement has on future success? 



Arts and Culture and Economic Growth in Pennsylvania

While the state of the economy is center stage this election season, there has been little discussion of the importance of nonprofits, particularly those in the arts sector, in job creation and economic growth. A new study, Arts & Economic Prosperity IV: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences in the State of Pennsylvania, conducted by Americans for the Arts demonstrates the clear correlation between support of  the arts and employment and revenue generation in the Commonwealth.

According to the report, in 2010, Pennsylvania had $2,545,382,269 in total expenditures between art and culture organizations and their patrons. This spending supported more than 81,000 full-time jobs and sent over $201 million in revenue to the state government.

In Allegheny County, 2010 arts and culture industry expenditures totaled $685,602,764, with event attendees spending an average of $21.44 per person, not including the cost of event admission. As would be expected, people living outside of Allegheny County spent more on meals, gifts or souvenirs and lodging.  The data indicate that this patronage of cultural events and activities in and around the city of Pittsburgh supports over 20,500 full-time jobs and generates $31,448,000 in revenue to the local government.

Read the complete report or the regional summaries at the Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania webpage (all are available for download). Then make plans for dinner and a show!