Americans are paying more for culture, opportunity looms on the technology front

New information out from the Consumer Price Index (CPI) indicate that Americans are spending more for both technology and entertainment (a catagory that includes cultural expenditures).  How can cultural organizations capitalize on this?  What does this mean?  Articles in both The Atlantic and NPR's Planet Money look at these trends from a more general standpoint but don't drill down on the idea for the arts.  The facts presented from the Atlantic indicate that 2007 Recreation expenditures are up by 1.7% over those from the US in 1947.  The  NPR article states that as a percentage of household income, expenditures on Entertainment rose from 5% of the total in 1947 to 6% in 2007.  This information along with the more current information from the CPI which had the Recreation Index gaining by .6% (driven in part by a 1.2% and 2.0% rise in admission to cultural events in Dec 2011 and Jan 2012) this last January give the arts sector some reason to look favorably towards the horizon.  These numbers mean recovery, and recovery means opportunity for change. The relative gains in the arts sector are paltry compared to the gains made on technology purchases in the same amount of time.  The number of personal computers in homes (worldwide), for instance, grew from 152 Million from 1993 to 2002.  The number of internet users in that same time frame went from 10.5 million to 716 million.  The growth of other tech is no less startling by most accounts.  The synthesis of the growth of technology has yet to be fully realized by the arts sector at large but this brief respite (where revenue is rebounding from recession) should be a moment where we rally to adapt.

What do these broad economic indicators mean?  Consumer confidence has been slowly recovering since the doldrums that it was in around 2008 and 2009.  As budgets start to recover and earned income from ticket and admission sales start to edge up, arts leaders will be faced with decisions about what to do with the money.  The temptation to return departments and programs to the pre-recession status quo will be strong; the opportunity, however, for transformation through technology to meet the larger changes in how people are consuming arts and culture should be the priority.

As many technologies are currently moving out of first generation and subsequently becoming less expensive the opportunity to develop interfacing content for them is also becoming less expensive.  Application development for mobile devices is, for instance, now within the fiscal reach of the arts sector.  Similarly simulcast capabilities in HD are coming into broader usage in peforming arts organizations across the country.  The time to identify and implement new technology is now.