It Is About Time, All The Time

You have probably been hearing or reading a lot about the recent National Endowment for the Arts survey results, particularly about why people they don’t participate in arts activities.

I was recently looking at some old articles I had bookmarked and the statistics from a study on creativity caught my eye. Curiosity sent me scurrying back to the NEA report to see if my suspicions were true.

In 2012, StrategyOne surveyed 1000 people each in the U.S. UK, Germany, France and Japan about their relationship with creativity. It is graphic heavy and very interesting to read.

A couple years ago, Jeffrey Davis summarized the StrategyOne results for the U.S. on Creativity Post.

When Americans were asked what their biggest challenge to being able to create were:

For the Americans surveyed, self-doubt (27%), other personal obligations (29%), other work obligations (22%), and one’s age (13%) ranked fairly low.

That leaves two self-perceived blocks: Time and Money.

54% of surveyed Americans claimed they didn’t have the financial resources to let them create. 52% perceived that lack of time kept them from being able to create.

But when you unpack this question, its potential answers, and the actual responses, much if not all of it comes back to time.

Our perception of time is tied to how we view our obligations. If we think we don’t have enough money to create, this means in part that we think we don’t have enough money to be freed up from other obligations to afford us the solitude and “off-time” necessary to be “on” creatively.

If you look at the NEA study results about barriers to attendance 47% said time, 38% said cost, 37% said access.

I suspect there is a stronger relationship between time and money being the top answers in both surveys than I can imagine. One of my initial thoughts was that creativity is seen as a frivolous pursuit.

With so many other activities that are perceived to be more important, creativity gets lowest priority and so of course there is no time left to pursue it as an attendee, participant or self-directed creator.

As much as I would like to damn society for giving people this message and encourage everyone to free their minds like me, if I am honest I have to confess to feeling the same pressure.

This past Christmas when things were quiet, I felt guilty about catching up on professional reading when I should be doing something constructive like writing press releases. What I was reading were materials provided by our state arts council and still I felt like I was avoiding my real responsibilities.

That is a pretty insidious mindset, eh?

Fortunately, I was able to make up for it and flex my artistic tendencies by blasting music and singing at the top of my lungs since there was no one else on my floor.

Something to think about though. The challenge may not be as simple as getting people to make time to see shows, it may be about getting them to make time for the more fundamental task of being creative.

I suspect if you succeed at the second battle, you will have already made great headway on the first. But that second one is a real doozy to try to accomplish.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “It Is About Time, All The Time”

  1. I think your observation is spot on. I entered the field of communications because of a love of writing, yet rarely allow myself time for it outside of content generated for my job. What happens in those moments where we allow creativity to enter our soul space is critical, and it’s a slow evolution to identifying it as such in our daily lives.


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