Companies Sing and Dance at New Interest in the Arts

Article excerpt

IF anyone doubts that culture in the United States can mean big business, just ask Dennis Hedlund. He has turned a modest $6,500 investment in the publishing of performing art videos into a global company grossing millions of dollars.

Mr. Hedlund is president of Kultur, a West Longbranch, New Jersey-based publisher of videos that range from ballets to concerts, documentaries to operas. His operation is one of a growing number of companies that offer products and services related to the arts as more Americans become interested.

"We live in an age of information and education," says Thomas Black, associate publisher and advertising director of the Smithsonian magazine, published by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The Smithsonian, with a circulation of 2.1 million, is considered one of the more successful "cultural" magazines in the US. According to Mr. Black, demographic studies show that about 72 million Americans over the age of 25 have attended college, up from around 23 million in 1970. This large segment of the population represents 56 percent of the total payroll income in the US, plus slightly more than 70 percent of all discretionary income. Arts-related companies largely target their products at this community, he says.

Still, many people who have not attended college are also avid fans of the arts, he is quick to point out.

This growing community of arts aficionados is reflected by the increasing presence of large multipurpose bookstores throughout the country, which offer not only books, video tapes, and other cultural items for sale, but often provide a coffeehouse within the bookstore.

Arts in the US draw considerable - and increasing - dollar outlays. In terms of paid admissions, about 41 percent of all Americans went to at least one performing-arts related event in 1992, says Tom Bradshaw, a research official with the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington. That is up from 39 percent of all Americans in 1982, Mr. Bradshaw says. About $5. …