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What Stops You From Engaging with Art?

Scholarly Critique #2.2

When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance

National Endowment for the Arts

NEA Research Report #59 January 2015

I found this report after finding the list of publications available from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). In my search for literature for my research I came across another resource from the same organization from 2002, called Involved in the Arts, Involved in Life. In an effort to find more current literature from the organization, I went directly to the NEA website and found a list of several recent publications. Score!

This report was developed from the data from a 2012 survey from the NEA measuring “U.S. adults attitudes, perceptions, and opinions on a wide variety of social issues--to identify not only why and with whom U.S. adults attend the visual and performing arts, but also why individuals decide not to attend, after they identify and exhibit or performance that interests them.” The focus, or theme of this work, revolves around highlighting the findings specific to the motivations and barriers around arts attendance.

This inquiry is directly related to my research team’s case study based exploration of the affordances and limitations of engaging with art across different settings. The report also presents demographics about who attends visual and performing arts events, which will be helpful in comparing to the demographics of the populations of our respective settings.

This report puts a strong emphasis on the findings of the survey, particularly on sharing “unprecedented insights about interested non-attendees--that is, those individuals who express interest in attending exhibits or performances, but do not ultimately follow through”. I found the structure of the report to be unique from the literature I have previously critiqued, in that it presents general findings and implications for the research before going in depth. Then, the report continues on structured into “Chapters” and discussed in depth the introduction and context of the survey, considerations related to data on the motivations and barriers to engagement, and demographics of the population. A list of key findings is presented within each chapter to summarize the information, with more specific data communicated through tables and graphs.

In consideration of my team’s research, there are multiple elements of this report that would be helpful in the design of our data summarization. The overall structure of the report was refreshing, and could offer a solution so the reader isn’t bored to death before they get to each case study’s findings. I also appreciated the inclusion of multiple ways that the data was represented, including text, bulleted lists, charts and graphs. However, our research will also include data from interviews, which will need to be presented in a different way than the quantitative data behind this report.

The final conclusion section of this report summarizes the “problem” of a decline in attendance at art events over the last two decades, reiterates the rationale for the research focused on exploring the barrier and motivations to engagement, and makes some final acknowledgements of important takeaways from the study. Socializing emerges as strong motivator that cuts across demographic areas, and some strategies and implications for this finding are discussed. Finally, implications for continued research and policy into the barrier and motivations for engagement in the arts are discussed, and it is suggested that “more still can be learned from these data”.

National Endowment for the Arts (2015). When going gets tough: Barriers and motivations effecting arts attendance. Research Report #59. Retrieved from:

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