A new National Endowment of the Artsstudy has looked back into the data from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Expanding the definition from “benchmark” activities (like going to the opera) to the creation and viewing of art or art-related content digitally has yielded a radically different picture of American’s relationship to the arts.
The new definition shows a three-fold increase in the number of Americans taking part in art: from one in four to three in four.
Data Mining for Art’s Sake
The NEA did not change the data or add to it, they just passed it to a new group of researchers with the mission to mine it using these new criteria. The researchers were Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg of NORC, University of Chicago; Mark J. Stern of the University of Pennsylvania; and Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard and Alan S. Brown of the research firm WolfBrown.
So, how do people actually engage in art? The digital lens, it turns out, is a powerful one. Among the intriguing conclusions the researchers came to in re-parsing the data are these.
- Nearly 75% of adults attended arts activities, created art, or engaged with art via electronic media. This is more than twice the share of adults (34.6%) who attended “benchmark” arts events such jazz or classical music concerts, opera, plays, ballet, or who visited art museums or galleries.
- The highest rates of participation via electronic media–including mobile devices and the Internet–were reported for classical music (18%), Latin music (15%), and programs about the visual and literary arts (15% each).
- An American adult who creates or performs art is almost six times more likely to attend arts events than one who does not create or perform art.
- In addition to reporting higher arts-attendance rates, those who receive arts education as a child are more likely to create or perform art, engage with the arts via media, and take art classes as an adult.
- In 1982, nearly two-thirds of 18-year-olds reported taking art classes in their childhood. By 2008, that share had dropped below one-half (2.6 million), a decline of 23%.
- Declines in childhood arts education from 1982 to 2008 are much higher among African American and Hispanic children than among white children. In that timeframe, there was a 49% drop for African Americans, and a 40% drop for Hispanic children, compared with a statistically insignificant decline for white children.
- There are patterns related to age and generation that are significant. For example, older adults (born in 1955 or earlier) are more likely than younger Americans to be “cultural omnivores,” people who attend a variety of arts events, in different art forms and settings. As these generations have aged, there have been fewer cultural omnivores; furthermore, they are now attending arts events less frequently. It is estimated that 82% of the decline in total benchmark arts activities attended between 2002 and 2008 stems from this combination.
- Age and generation may be less important in audience outreach than previously thought.
This data mining has resulted in three reports: “Arts Education in America: What the declines mean for arts participation” by Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg; “Beyond Attendance: A multi-modal understanding of arts participation” by Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard and Alan S. Brown; and “Age and Arts Participation: A case against demographic destiny” by Mark J. Stern.