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2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts

Research Report #49

October 1, 20101 October 2010

Arts attendance, participation and public perception

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The National Endowment for the Arts’ 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts collected data about the arts activities of more than 18,000 Americans 18 years of age and older. The Endowment called the 2008 results “disappointing”, because “a smaller segment of the adult population either attended arts performances or visited art museums or galleries than in any prior survey”. While arts attendance declined across all age groups, the decrease was most significant for Americans between 45 and 54 years of age, “historically a large component of arts audiences”. Attendance rates also decreased among women and highly-educated Americans.

While all forms of the performing arts saw a decrease in participation, art museum and gallery attendance remained relatively stable between 1982 and 2008. After declaring “reading at risk” in a report based on 2002 survey results, the 2008 survey found that literature reading rose between 2002 and 2008 (from 47% to 50%). Literature reading rose particularly sharply for Americans between 18 and 24 years of age (from 43% to 52%).

The arts education results are quite striking: “since 1982, the share of 18-24-year-olds who report having had any music education in their lives (now 38 percent) has dropped by more than a third. For visual arts training, the proportion (now 21 percent) has nearly halved.” Personal creative activities among adults also declined: “Adults were generally creating or performing at lower rates in 2008 – despite opportunities for sharing their work online.”

Other interesting survey results:

  • Media-related participation in the arts is substantial: 41% of American adults “watched, listened, or explored the arts through some form of media”.
  • One-quarter of American adults attended a high school music, theatre or dance performance in 2008.
  • One-fifth of adults attended a performance at a church, synagogue or other religious institution.
  • One-fifth of Americans own original art, but only 6% purchased art in the past year.

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