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Arts and Culture  
Fewer Americans Participating in the Arts, NEA Study Finds

By Anthony Calabrese
September 23, 2010


Participation in the arts fell in 2008 with the percentage of adults attending arts events declining for all "benchmark" activities, according a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts defines benchmark activities as including the following art events, which have been tracked since 1982:

  • Jazz - down 27.8 percent since 2002
  • Classical music - decreased by 19.8 percent since 2002
  • Opera - down - down 34.4 percent since 2002
  • Musical plays - relatively unchanged since 2002 but down 10.2 percent since 1982
  • Non-musical plays - decreased by 23.6 percent since 2002
  • Ballet - down 25.6 percent since 2002
  • Art Museum/Gallery - down 14.3 percent since 2002

Just over one in three U.S. adults, or 78 million Americans, attended a benchmark art event in 2008, the year of the most recent survey, SPPA data show. If more recently added categories such as "Other Dance"and Latin/Spanish/Salsa music attendance are thrown into the mix, the numbers rise to 36.2 percent and a total of 81.3 million U.S. adults.

Use the interactive graph below to track trends in attendance and participation in the arts. Use the filter to see a breakdown of who participated by gender, race/ethnicity, age and education.

Arts Attendance and the Recession

The study noted that the recession may have had an impact on arts attendance and participation.

  • At the time of the 2008 survey, the U.S. economy had been in recession for six months. Consumer spending on performing arts admissions tracks closely with trends in the U.S. economy, and consumer spending throughout the survey period was weak, according to the NEA. The research suggests that annual consumer spending on the performing arts drops by 0.8 percent for every one percent decline in GDP.
  • For much of the 2008 survey period, average gas prices were $3.00 or more per gallon. By contrast, the average per-gallon price of gasoline was only $1.51 in 2002, the prior year of the survey.
  • Participation rates for low-cost, low-travel arts opportunities, including literary reading and the researching of art over the Internet, were relatively high in 2008. That year, 41 percent of adults watched, listened, or explored the arts through some form of media. Literary reading rose from 2002 to 2008 to reach 50 percent of adults. The report calls literary reading, "often the most affordable form of arts participation."

The study's authors cautioned that, "one cannot attribute the lower attendance rates solely to economic conditions with any degree of certainty."

About the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts

The 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts was conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. The SPPA was done as a supplement to the Census Bureau's Current Population survey in 2002 and 2008. Responses for were collected for 18,444 adults in 2008 and the SPPA had a response rate of 81.6 percent.

Data Sources:

National Endowment for the Arts: 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (PDF)

Figure 1-2: Millions of U.S. adults attending a performing arts event or other arts activity at least once in the past 12 months

Arts Participation Trend Tables: Table 1 and Table 3 (PDF)

Arts Participation 2008: Highlights From a National Survey (PDF)

Read the May 2008 SPPA Questionnaire (PDF)

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Data visualization by Anthony Calabrese, a State of the USA Web producer.

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