A New Renaissance?: As college enrollment rises, so does allegiance to the arts.

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What's the state of art today? Among educated Americans, it's looking pretty good. While 37 percent of all Americans visited a museum in 1998, a whopping 71 percent of people with graduate degrees made a trip that year, as did 66 percent of people with bachelor's degrees, according to the 1998 General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center.

Classical music and dance also did well among the well schooled. Nearly half the people who hold graduate degrees and one-third of those with bachelor's degrees took in a classical music or dance performance in 1998, compared with fewer than 15 percent of people with less education.

Even better news for anyone who runs an arts institution - the support goes beyond buying tickets. More than one-quarter of college graduates did volunteer work for arts organizations, according to the survey, compared with only 16 percent of all Americans. College graduates are more likely than other Americans to say the government has an obligation to support the arts: 57 percent of them say that arts organizations should get federal assistance and about 70 percent say they should receive state and local aid. By comparison, 45 percent of all Americans say the arts should receive federal funds and 55 percent say they should get state or local monies.

The backing should grow as more Americans spend time in the Ivory Tower. Today, one-quarter of people aged 25 to 54 have a college degree, according to the Census Bureau. Among Baby Boomers and younger generations, however, the share with a sheepskin is likely to increase to 30 percent or more, as people continue their education later in life. In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that college enrollment will increase by 12 percent by 2008.

The increase in college graduates and the concurrent rise of art lovers will benefit more than just symphonies and museums. Sales of art and music, tourism with an emphasis on arts and culture, and companies with a good track record of support for the arts should all reap the benefits.

For more information about the General Social Survey, contact the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago at (312) 753-7500.

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