Washington, D.C. -- Nonprofit theaters in the United States have seen unprecedented expansion across the United States, according to new research from the National Endowment for the Arts. All America's a Stage examines developments in the growth, distribution, and finances of America's nonprofit theater system since 1990. While the research indicates broad growth and generally positive fiscal health, it also reveals decreasing attendance rates and vulnerability during economic downturns.
"America has created a magnificent national network of nonprofit theaters," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "Our challenge now is to use them ambitiously to bring the power of theater to our citizens, students, and communities."
Nearly 2,000 nonprofit theaters were analyzed for the study, which draws from several data sources such as the Internal Revenue Service, Theater Communications Group member survey data, the U.S. Census Bureau's Economic Census Data, and data from the NEA's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. The investigation revealed that NEA funding is a likely catalyst in drawing sizeable contributions from other sources. Each dollar in NEA grant support is associated with an additional $12 from individual donors, $1.88 from businesses, and $3.55 from foundations. Among the key findings:
Broad and rapid expansion across the country
The number of nonprofit theaters in the United States has doubled over a 15-year period. In 2005, there were 1,982 nonprofit theaters with annual budgets of at least $75,000, up 100 percent from 991 in 1990.
Among the top ten states with the highest per capita concentration of theaters are Vermont, Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Connecticut, and Minnesota.
Although theaters continue to cluster in high-population states, the number of theaters in small and mid-sized population states has grown substantially. From 1990 to 2005, the sharpest growth rate occurred in Nevada, Arkansas, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and Mississippi.
Theater finances – generally good news
Nonprofit theaters generally have maintained a healthy balance sheet. Between 1990 and 2005, real assets (such as land, buildings, and equipment) grew by nearly 60 percent, while liabilities remained flat.
Nonprofit theaters have achieved a more equitable balance between earned and contributed income. Earned income made up 52 percent of all nonprofit theater revenue in 2005, the remainder was mostly contributed. Individuals and foundations remain the biggest contributors to nonprofit theater.
In 2002, individuals donated 40 percent of all contributed revenue, and foundation giving made up 22 percent.
Between 1990 and 2005, nonprofit theater revenues fluctuated sharply with business cycles in the U.S. economy. After the 2001 recession, nonprofit theater revenue (including both ticket sales and contributions) dropped nearly 12 percent in 2002. Revenue continued to decrease slowly from 2002 to 2005.
Flat or shrinking attendance rates
Audience trends are flat or in decline. The percentage of the U.S. adult population attending non-musical theater has declined from 13.5 percent (25 million people) in 1992 to 9.4 percent (21 million people) in 2008. The absolute size of the audience has declined by 16 percent since 1992.
The number of adults who have attended musical theater has grown since 1992, but remains largely constant as a percentage of the population.
Attendance trends do not seem primarily related to ticket prices. Statistical models predict that a 20 percent price hike in low-end subscription or single tickets will reduce total attendance by only 2 percent. These data suggest that other facts are likely affecting the demand for theater.
Press Release from NEA