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Demographic Characteristics of Arts Attendance, 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (USA)

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has conducted a benchmark survey of Americans’ involvement in arts activities. Two NEA Research Notes based on the 2002 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) examine participation in the arts and demographic characteristics of arts attendees. The report on overall participation in the arts shows that 76% of all Americans – or 157 million Americans 18 or older – participated in the arts in some way in 2001/02. This figure is strikingly similar to an equivalent Canadian figure: In a 2002 presentation, Kelly Hill (then Research Manager at the Ontario Arts Council) noted that “74% of Canadians – or 18 million people age 15 or older – were involved in the arts, either through attending events or creating works.” (This report can be downloaded from

Data from the U.S. participation study shows that a larger percentage of Americans visited art museums and attended jazz performances in 2002 than in 1982. On the other hand, a smaller percentage of Americans attended classical music performances, read literature and attended musical plays in 2002. Given significant population growth, there was an increase in the number of Americans participating in most arts activities between 1982 and 2002.

The report shows that arts participation via media formats (including TV, radio, DVDs and CDs) was more popular than live performing arts attendance but less popular than “live” participation in the visual arts and literature. The SPPA results also show that about one-third of internet users explored at least one arts topic on the internet. Music was the most commonly researched arts topic, followed by literature, visual arts, theatre, dance and opera.

The demographic Research Note reports that “college graduates and people with graduate school education were overrepresented at all arts activities”. Non-Hispanic whites were also overrepresented at most arts activities, while non-Hispanic African Americans and Hispanic Americans were generally underrepresented. Americans with higher incomes were also overrepresented among arts audiences. The Research Note also shows that women participated in most arts activities in greater proportions than men in 2002. In terms of age, only the median ages of classical music and opera attendees (49 and 48, respectively) were significantly higher than the median age of all Americans (45) in 2002. The median ages of attendees at all other arts activities were roughly equal to or lower than the median age of all Americans. The data in the report also shows that arts audiences are aging, but at about the same pace as the overall population.

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