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How a Nation Engages with Art: Highlights from the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts

March 19, 201419 March 2014

Arts attendance and participation

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The National Endowment for the Arts' 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts collected data about the arts activities of more than 37,000 Americans 18 years of age and older. Some key participation figures in the report include:

  • 71% of Americans consumed the arts via electronic media (including 61% using TV, radio, or the Internet to access the arts and 38% using a handheld or mobile device to access art).
  • 59% went to a movie.
  • 54% read “voluntarily” (including 54% who read books outside of requirements for work or school and 47% who read novels, short stories, plays, or poetry).
  • 50% created or performed art (including 32% participating in “social dancing”, the most popular activity in this group).
  • 49% attended a visual or performing arts activity.
  •  7% learned about the arts through classes or lessons.

The overall attendance rate at visual and performing arts activities (49%) includes:

  • The 39% of Americans who attended a visual arts event, including touring a park, monument, building, or neighborhood for historic or design purposes (24%), attending a visual arts festival or a crafts fair (22%), and visiting an art gallery (21%).
  • The 37% who attended a live performing arts event, including outdoor performing arts festivals (21%), musical or non-musical plays (18%), classical music, jazz, Latin, Spanish, or salsa music (17%), dance events of any kind (7%), and opera (2%).

The most common venues for performing arts attendance were parks or open-air facilities (15% of visual and performing arts attendees), followed by theatres, concert halls, and auditoriums (12%), restaurants, bars, nightclubs, or coffee shops (12%), elementary, middle, or high schools (10%), churches, synagogues, or other places of worship (9%), and art galleries (9%).

Between 2008 and 2012, there were decreases in Americans’ attendance rates at theatre performances, art galleries, and craft fairs or visual arts festivals. For many other performing arts activities, attendance rates were essentially unchanged between 2008 and 2012 (although many activities had experienced decreases between 2002 and 2008). Over a longer timeframe, the “trend” attendance rate for visual and performing arts events decreased from 39% in 1982 to 33% in 2012.

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