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Why is Twitch important when talking about arts engagement?

Scholarly Critique #2.4

National Endowment for the Arts

Research Report #58

January 2015

This report outlines the findings from 10 years of data from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). The SPPA has historically tracked attendance and participation in what they consider to be “benchmark” activities across visual and performing arts. In the 2012 SPPA Survey, “questions were added to identify venues where Americans experience live arts, to capture the use of electronic media to create and share art, and to ask about participation in arts learning activities outside classes or lessons”. The addition of these questions comes at the end of a decade that saw significant economic, political, and technological changes.

The 2012 SPPA Survey is said to have included “a broader range of questions designed to identify arts participation where it existed but might have gone previously unmeasured”. This is an important realization, as smaller organizations often rely on the guidance of large research organizations like the NEA in adopting new technologies. Change in a large organization takes time, and smaller organizations then struggle to keep up with rapidly changing technologies and connecting with the community while they are waiting for guidance.

I suspect that our youngest generation’s participation in the arts is significantly more popular through technology, and specifically through the internet. For arts organizations, it is critical for them to put an emphasis on technology development in their communications and engagement opportunities for them to be relevant and successful in the future. Waiting for this important data about arts engagement to take action in their own development is no longer an option with the fast pace of technological change.

This premise guides my research team’s investigation into arts engagement across various settings, including my case study on Following my previous blog post, I was interested in the statistic from the 2012 SPPA Survey that 71% of the adult population had engaged with art through radio, TV, or the internet. In this report, I was able to explore the data on participation in the arts via the internet in more depth.

The report outlines the most common types of arts activities accessed via the internet, and while reviewing it I can’t help but think that the types of activities seem to be more in line with the traditional benchmark art activities the survey has historically assessed. What about engagement with art on social media? What types of art engagement is happening on the newest social live stream video platforms, for example Meerkat and Periscope?

The report also continues on to provide a look at the percentage of US adults that used electronic media to create or perform art in 2012. The data suggests that 45.6% of all adults used electronic media to create visual art, and 28.4% used electronic media to create or perform music. Creating and sharing art via technology is an important consideration as we move into an increasingly digital world.

I’ve seen live stream video broadcasts from major art museums, galleries, and other creative organizations that have had thousands of viewers and engaging conversations in chat. I’ve seen broadcasters on that have designed interfaces, emotes, and branding for their channels. Many broadcasters live stream while working on art projects from painting in photoshop, editing in final cut pro, and sculpting or sewing. Even major creative organizations like Adobe have started up a Twitch channel. I have also observed live stream video broadcasts where the host has received hundreds of background images designed by viewers in just one week. I believe there are still additional art activities that are not reflected in this data. I wonder now about the structure of the questions in this survey, and if there was an “other” option with an open response area? Do those who are engaging across these platforms realize they are engaging in art? How many people would agree that they have engaged with art through social media? Surely a significant percentage of the population would agree if the survey recognized this as an option.

In relation to the design of my own research process, I am seeing now just how limiting a survey can be. Just in the time it took me to write this blog post, I know somewhere out there, another arts organization or creative individual is using technology in a new way. In facilitating the conversations I will have with my research participants, I am realizing how challenging it can be to remain open but focused. Writing survey questions is an art in it’s own right!

National Endowment for the Arts (2014) A decade of arts engagement: Findings from the survey of public participation in the arts, 2002-2012. Research Report #58. Retrieved from:

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