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CAP was founded in 1990 to act as an advocate for the arts, serve the public by providing services and resources for county artists and arts organizations, and encourage collaboration among arts, education, business, civic and government organizations.Learn more

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Literary Needs Survey

Report on the Literary Services Needs Survey for the Finger Lakes

 

Abstract: Respondents indicated strong enthusiasm for creation of an on-line resource for literary services to the region; a "writers' center" offering varied services including workshops, manuscript advice, and information on grants and publishing; and a literary festival if offered at moderate expense.   Although most respondents were from Tompkins County, nearly half of all respondents indicated that they lived outside of a city or large town, suggesting that these resources would serve a somewhat rurally diffused clientele, but one that is willing to travel within the region for events of interest.     

Background: In Fall 2008, 257 Finger Lakes residents responded to an on-line survey administered by the Tompkins County Public Library on behalf of CAP, with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.    Participants were recruited by the "waterfall" method: that is, writers or presenters known to CAP staff and to an informal advisory group sent the survey to literary acquaintances with the request to pass it on, and CAP staff sent the questionnaire to arts councils and other presenters.    While not random, the respondents probably reflect accurately the loose networks of writers and the most active audience members in regional communities, with a predictably high return for Tompkins County, which is arts-rich and more populous than the others.   

Feedback on audience interests probably reflect the views of individuals who are already more or less intensely engaged with literary trends or with the region's typically small literary events , e.g. through libraries or senior centers, for those are the respondents most likely to be included in the "waterfall."   Recognizing that the survey probably does not reflect the potentially large general interest audience that might come to hear well-known names like Salman Rushdie, respondents who do not self-identify primarily as writers offer a glimpse of the core audience for smaller playscript and poetry readings, novice-level workshops, events in isolated venues, and patronage of regional writers.

The respondents: The typical respondent was a long term resident of the region, a homeowner, in the 34-64 age group, female (78%) and Caucasian (96%).   54% of respondents reported living in a city or large town, 26% in a "very small town" and 20% called themselves "rurally isolated."  They represent a dedicated audience: 34% have attended literary events 1 to 5 time in the last two years, and 62% had attended 6 or more events.   Of 203 respondents who indicated their home county, 147, or 78%, were from Tompkins County, 12 from Steuben, 8 from Tioga, and 6 of fewer from the other Finger Lakes counties.  

Artist respondents:  54% of all respondents self-identified as primarily writer/performers and another 7% as primarily presenters, e.g. of reading series.     Because we asked respondents to identify themselves by their primary relation to literature, e.g as a writer/performer, presenter, or audience members, our results undoubtedly undercount the numerous  writer/performers who organize writers' events; and it is certaint hat many who identify themselves as audience members are novice or closet writers.    

An impressionistic view of the writer/performer responders who registered their e-mails suggests that although Tompkins County is highly over-represented, writers employed by the universities and colleges in the region are not as fully represented as we would have liked.   The survey included an invitation to apply for listing in the first FL Writer's Directory to which 78% of the self-designated writer-performers responded in the affirmative.   When the forms for inclusion in that directory are sent out, a separate mailing to well-known writers in the region who may not have been caught in the "waterfall" will be added.    

In term of genres, writer/performer respondents could give overlapping answers and did so: 49% practice fiction, 49% literary memoir or non-fiction, 49% poetry, 12% storytelling, 16% playwriting.   16% were editors of books, 16% edited magazines, and 18% were involved in some mixed form with literary elements.    21% describe themselves as very active but novices.    

In publishing activity 32% described themselves as "quite well published" and an additional 40% had 1-5 edited publication within the last two years, while 13% have self-published.  

As performers, 68% of writer/performers had presented at least once in the last two years, and almost half of these had presented upward of six times.   34% had offered at least one workshop in that period.   

Of 111 responses to a question about arts-in-education activity such as school residencies, 30% had participated in the last two years.    

As to economics, 10% of writer/performer respondents live by primarily by literary arts, 30% earn part of their living, and 61% do not depend on their writing for livelihood.    With respect to performance, 19% say they will not appear without payment, 64% desire payment but don't require it, and 18% say it is not necessary.

78% of the writer/performers were interested in being listed in the Finger Lakes Writers' Directory. 

Desired Services: A quarter of respondents considered themselves "well-informed" about events in their area of interest across the region, but 54% felt aware of events only in their county,  immediate community, or campus; and 37% felt "badly informed."   They receive word of literary events more by word of mouth (74%) than from newspapers (67%), e-mail (63%), mailings (43%) or posters (42%).     

From a list of possible services, the top items were: an on-line site on literary services for the region; a "literary center" to house various services including workshops at novice and advanced levels and information about grants and publication; and help in marketing one's works or performances. 

Much lower numbers were interested in on-line workshops, a publishing  cooperative, having professional actors read works, and so on.  There was some enthusiasm for a regional writers' association.  It should be noted that we did not cross-tabulate the responses with respondents' locations or favored genres. 

A significant number of writer/performers were interested in offering workshops to underserved groups:   65-67% for high risk students or the elderly, 45-48% to young children or convicts, 14% to other groups (such as gay/lesbian, refugees, and young mothers)

Events desired: workshops:  Of all respondents, 40% had attended a workshop or festival at least once in the last two years, and 11% had attended over 5 times.     90% said they'd like to attend more events than they have done.  With respect to workshops, 37% expressed interest in offerings for "emerging" writers and 44% in "advanced" workshops.  

Asked about interest in attending a workshop, 43% said their interest would depend heavily on the presenter; 39% mentioned distance as a consideration and 69% mentioned cost as a factor.   44% would travel anywhere in the region for a workshop that "really interested" them; 11% limited their options to their own city or town.  (Again, we have not cross-tabulated responses with age or location.)

Highly comparable figures for willingness to travel within the region were recorded in response to questions about "a single event that really interested me."

Asked about multi-day retreats or workshops, 35% said they would not be interested but 42% said they'd consider a retreat/workshop of "up to two days" and 19% "up to a week."   

Asked about literary festivals, 67% said they would attend a literary festival, though 46% mentioned the cost as a limiting factor.  

Conclusions:  The responses described above suggest that even though the majority of responses came from Tompkins County, the respondent pool overall was somewhat rurally diffused, with a mixture of city, small town, and "isolated" living situations.  Despite being rather intensely engaged-this survey essentially describes a core clientele for literary services in the region, artists at various levels who are each others' audience as often as not.  Respondents felt poorly informed overall, and were willing to travel within the region for attractive workshops and festivals at moderate cost.   They were interested in offering as well as taking workshops, and in professional development help to market and publish.   They represent community-active writers and performers rather than primarily the academic community that is the economic mainstay of the region (especially Tompkins) , though many academically connected writers and audience members are in the respondent pool. 

On-line communication and perhaps coordinated scheduling, centralized literary services, and festivals with some major "names" should attract both the core audience sampled here and a much larger circle of generally interested readers, especially if offered in partnership with the universities in the region, which periodically offer high-visibility writers.   The modest responses from the outlying counties suggests that circuit-riding and outreach events in these counties should be part of the plan, both in order to expand audiences and because workshops for the underserved and arts-in-education are main avenues to professional development of regional writers.