National survey reveals trends in public participation in the arts

Initial results from a survey on public participation in the arts conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts were recently released by the NEA, offering an overview of current trends across the US. The survey has been conducted in partnership with the United States Census Bureau six times since 1982, and represents the nation’s largest arts participation survey.


Here’s a look at some key findings from the survey.

* Nearly half of the nation’s adults (49 percent or 115 million) attended at least one type of visual or performing arts activity in 2012. Fifty-nine percent of adults attended at least one movie, an activity that increased substantially among most demographic subgroups.

• Musical play attendance saw the first significant drop since the 1985 survey: a 9 percent rate of decline from 2008 to 2012. Non-musical play attendance fell at a 12 percent rate over the same period.

• Museum-going also saw a decline: 21 percent of adults (or 47 million) visited an art museum or gallery in 2012, down from 23 percent in 2008.

• Festivals show promise as entry points to the arts. One in four younger adults (ages 18-24) attended an outdoor performing arts festival in 2012, up from 22 percent in 2008.

• About half of the nation’s adults created, performed, or shared art of various types. The most popular forms of art-makinng were social dancing (32 percent danced at weddings, clubs, or other social settings), photography (26 percent e-mailed, posted, or shared photography in 2012), fiber arts (13 percent of adults reported participating in weaving, crocheting, quilting, needlepoint, knitting, or sewing), musical instruments (12 percent of adults), singing (9 percent reported singing, either alone or with others) and various handicrafts (8 percent created leatherwork, metalwork, or woodwork).

• Fifty-six percent of adults reported that they received arts education at some point in their lives — whether through classes, lessons, or through informal instruction. The most popular informal learning experiences were voice training or playing an instrument (18 percent), dance (16 percent), photography or filmmaking (13 percent), and music appreciation (11 percent).

• More than half of American adults read a work of literature or a book (fiction or nonfiction) not required for work or school in 2012. Older Americans (65 and older) now have higher rates of literary reading than any other adult age group.

• More than two-thirds of American adults (71 percent or 167 million) accessed art via electronic media, including TV, radio, handheld or mobile devices, the Internet, and DVDs, CDs, tapes, or records.

• Music viewing and listening is the most popular form of media arts participation, whether on TV, radio, or the Internet. Fifty percent of adults used TV or radio to watch or listen to music, and 29 percent used the Internet to watch, listen to, or download music.

• Mobile devices appear to narrow racial/ethnic gaps in arts engagement. Whether listening to music, looking at a photo, or watching a dance or theater performance, all racial/ethnic groups show roughly the same rates of engagement via mobile devices.

The 2012 survey evaluated adult Americans’ responses within five broad categories of arts activity in the past year: attending, reading, learning, making/sharing art, and consuming art via electronic media. The NEA plans to release a full report with in-depth findings next year, including more geographic and demographic details for arts engagement among adults. The entire survey questionnaire, raw data, and user’s guide are available at

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