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Motivations Matter: Findings and Practical Implications of a National Survey of Cultural Participation

January 31, 200631 January 2006

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This report, based on a survey of 1,231 Americans, digs deeper than typical demographic analyses to examine the motivations for arts attendance. Previous research has shown that, although important, demographic factors such as education, age and gender explain less about arts attendance than other factors such as previous arts attendance and openness to arts experiences. Some have called this an “arts bug”. This new report finds that “even after controlling for standard demographic predictors of attendance (such as level of education and childhood socialization), a desire to experience high-quality art remains a significant predictor of more frequent attendance”.

The survey asked respondents about seven possible “major reasons” for attending arts events. Respondents had different reasons for attending different types of arts events:

  • For each of the three performing arts areas included in the survey (dance, music and plays), the desire to socialize with family or friends was most important, followed by the emotional rewards of attendance and the desire to experience high-quality art. (After breaking down the music results by subgenre, the author notes that high-quality art is a major motivation for classical and jazz music attendance but not for rock, pop or country music.)
  • For art museums and galleries, the desire to gain knowledge was most important, followed by the desire to experience high-quality art and the emotional rewards of attendance.
  • For arts or crafts festivals or fairs, the desire to socialize with family or friends was most important, followed by the emotional rewards of attendance and the desire to gain knowledge.
  • Other motivations included in the survey questionnaire were: the desire “to learn about or celebrate your or your family’s cultural heritage”; the desire “to support a community organization or event”; and low cost. The report notes that “African-American and Hispanic survey respondents were far more likely than white respondents to express a desire to learn about or celebrate their cultural heritage”.

    Respondents were also asked about their experiences at arts events. The author compared respondents’ experiences with their motivations for attending and concluded that “most people had the experiences they hoped to have”.

    However, the report also highlights some experience “gaps”. For arts festivals and fairs, a much higher percentage of attendees said that socializing was a major reason for attending (59%) than strongly agreed that the festival was an enjoyable social occasion (43%). Similar gaps occurred for the emotional rewards of plays and the knowledge gained by art gallery visitors.

    The author recommends that arts organizations consider specifics about their type of event when attempting to build participation. “Efforts to enlarge attendance cannot be based on why people attend ‘culture’, in a broad-brush sense, but must be rooted in information about why people attend that type of cultural event, where they attend, with whom they attend, and the experiences they hope to have.” More specifically, the author recommends that arts organizations “consider experiences in relation to motivations” in order to focus participation-building efforts on particular aspects of the attendance experience.

    The report concludes that “arts research, policy and management need to be reoriented to pay greater attention to … the differences in what people attend and the differing motivations, expectations, and experiences that accompany particular types of arts participation”.

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