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When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance

February 24, 201624 February 2016

Arts attendance and participation

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Based on the 2012 U.S. General Social Survey, this report provides a detailed examination of the motivations of arts attendees (the 54% of Americans who attended at least one exhibition or performance during the previous year) and the barriers facing “interested non-attendees” (the 13% who did not attend a visual or performing arts event during the previous year but wanted to go to at least one exhibition or live performance).

Overall, 8% of respondents visited an arts exhibition but not a performance, 20% attended a performance but not an exhibition, and 25% did both. Examined differently, this means that 76% of exhibition attendees also went to a performance during the year, while 56% of performance attendees also went to an exhibition.

The survey results show substantial differences in the motivations for attending visual arts exhibitions compared with live performances. The top motivations for exhibition attendance were to gain knowledge or learn something new (88% of exhibition attendees), to experience high-quality art (73%), and to see an exhibition at a specific location (72%). In the performing arts, the top motivations were to socialize with family or friends (76% of performance attendees), to see a specific artist or performer (65%), and to see a performance at a specific location (62%).

Motivations for attendance vary for individuals in different life stages. “Parents with young children under age six often cited socializing with family or friends, learning new things, and celebrating cultural heritage”. On the other hand, “empty-nesters and retirees typically are motivated by wanting to experience high-quality art, visiting the event’s location or venue, supporting community, and celebrating cultural heritage”. In addition, people in rural areas were more likely than urban residents “to cite supporting community as a major motivation for attendance”.

The report also finds that “attending the arts presents individuals with opportunities both to define their own sense of identity, and to socialize and deepen bonds with others in their families and in their broader communities – whether they be communities of geography, communities of shared cultural heritage, or communities of common interests”.

While those in higher education and income groups were more likely to attend arts events, those with lower education and income were more likely to be interested non-attendees.

Among interested non-attendees, the barriers to attendance were fairly consistent between exhibitions and performances. The most commonly noted barrier was a lack of time, cited by 55% those who wished to visit an exhibition and 44% of those who wanted to attend a performance. For non-attendees interested in exhibitions, the next most commonly cited barriers were the difficulty in getting to an exhibition venue (43%) and cost (27%). The order of these barriers were reversed for non-attendees interested in performances, with 44% citing cost and 33% indicating the difficulty of getting to a venue. As noted in the report, “parents with young children overwhelmingly cited lack of time” as the most common barrier to attendance.

Personal values and attitudes differ somewhat between attendees and non-attendees. “Arts attendees more strongly value listening to others’ opinions and diverse perspectives, and being creative and doing things in original ways, compared with non-attendees.” Attendees were also more likely than non-attendees to indicate “that devotion and loyalty to others is important”.

The report concludes that “organizations providing opportunities for attendees to socialize, meet new people, and experience new art forms, in a flexible format that combines the arts with other activities these individuals enjoy, may be better able to attract and retain audience members”.

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