Arts education in America: What the declines mean for arts participation
Based on the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts
This report makes a strong statistical connection between childhood arts experiences and adult arts participation. In fact, the report indicates that “arts education has a more powerful effect on arts attendance than any other measurable factor”.
In 2008, adults who indicated that they had any childhood arts education were much more likely to attend “benchmark” arts events within the past 12 months (including classical music concerts, jazz concerts, live theatre, operas, dance performances, and exhibitions at art museums and galleries). The attendance rate at one of these benchmark events was 57% for respondents who had any childhood arts education, compared with only 24% for those with no childhood arts education. Childhood arts education was also found to have a strong association with personal arts creation or performance and media-based arts consumption.
There are also inter-generational effects to childhood arts education. The report finds that “children of a parent who had arts education were more likely to take private [arts-related] lessons and to attend benchmark [arts] events than were children of parents who did not have an arts education”.
Adult arts education experiences are also associated with higher arts participation rates. The attendance rate at benchmark arts events was 70% for respondents who have had adult arts education, compared with only 27% for those without adult arts education experiences. Because the vast majority of adults who have taken art classes as an adult also had arts education experiences during their childhood, it would be difficult to isolate whether adult arts education has more or less of an impact on arts attendance than childhood arts education.
The study identifies long-term trends in the percentage of Americans reporting any childhood arts education. The analysis shows that there was “a steady increase in childhood arts education throughout most of the 20th century”. As noted in the study, “progressively greater access to childhood arts education probably helped build a large national audience for the arts” throughout most of the 20th century.
There was, however, a decline in childhood arts education starting in 1985. Because this “turning point” reflects the childhood arts education reported by 18-year olds at the time, the researchers note that the actual turning point “occurred sometime … between 1967 and 1984”.
The report also highlights the differences in childhood arts education for different population groups in 2008. While the report notes that declines were experienced for children in most socioeconomic groups, the decreases in childhood arts education are found to be “concentrated among low-income children and among African American and Hispanic children”.
In their conclusion, the report’s authors underscore some important gaps in our knowledge about arts education, such as: “what kinds of arts education matter most – … different pedagogical strategies, teaching methods, curricular content, purposes, and goals”; how many children take arts classes in school, outside of school, or both; what “the intensity and duration of arts classes” is for children; as well as the number and nature of “partnerships between arts organizations and schools to bring the arts and artists into classrooms”.