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Is participation in the Arts truly in decline?


Scholarly Critique #2.3

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

National Endowment for the Arts

Research Report #57

September 2013

This report provides a “first look” at the data collected from the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, conducted by the United States Census Bureau for the National Endowment for the Arts. The survey included data from a large sample size, 35,753 U.S. adults (18 and older), and featured questions about five main categories: Arts Attendance, Reading Literary Works, Arts Consumption through Electronic Media, Arts Creation and Performance, and Arts Learning. Since the first time the survey was conducted over 30 years ago, changes in art forms, technology, and demographics have led to new and different questions being asked.

The introduction of these questions in this survey signify the recognition of change in where, how, and why people engage in art. These new questions also frame the work that my research team has begun, as we have chosen to feature case studies from three settings that blur the boundaries of places associated with traditional arts engagement. This report offers a snapshot to understand current arts participation as a whole, while another report based on this data in combination with the previous 10 years of data goes more in depth into the themes that have emerged within each category over the past decade. My next blog post will feature a reflection on that article.

While previously reviewed research has provided a more localized look at arts engagement, this report provides an overview of the current behaviors and attitudes across multiple settings. An understanding of this data will provide a more holistic perspective for my research to frame our inquiries. Perhaps most intriguing of the data presented in this study is the chart for the “Top-Line Statistics for 2012: A Year in Arts Participation”. In this chart, “Arts Consumption through Electronic Media” outweighs the next arts related activity by 12%.

​A solid 71% of Adults have engaged with art through electronic media at least once during the 12 month period before the survey. However, this statistic does group together TV, radio, and internet. In my forthcoming scholarly critique, I hope to examine the more in depth report for findings that separate out these categories to provide a clearer look at consumption of art through the internet specifically. ​

This report also presents findings that demonstrate a decline in attendance to arts performances, museums, or galleries. While this is initially disheartening, I suspect that there are additional ways that youth are engaging in art that will contribute significantly to this data, when the youngest generation comes of age. This suspicion guides my inquiry into the engagement with art that I am seeing on Twitch.tv, where individuals and organizations are beginning to broadcast arts activities and events. I look forward to a deeper examination of this data in my continued research.

National Endowment for the Arts (2013) How a nation engages with art: Highlights from the 2012 survey of public participation in the arts. Research Report #57. Retrieved from: https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/highlights-from-2012-sppa-revised-jan2015.pdf


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