Commentary: "A radically different picture of Americans' relationship to the arts"

Curt Hopkins,, 2/24/11

A new National Endowment of the Arts study 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 Americans' 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.

         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.

         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, a decline of 23%.

         Declines in childhood arts education from 1982 to 2008 are much higher among African American and Hispanic 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 that are significant. Older adults are more likely than younger Americans to attend a variety of arts events, in different art forms and settings. As 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.



FROM TC: Last week, the NEA released these three new research reports:


Report #1: Beyond attendance: a multi-modal understanding of arts participation 

Jennifer Novak-Leonard and Alan Brown of WolfBrown explore patterns of arts engagement across three modes:  arts creation or performance, arts engagement through media, and attendance at arts activities. The report highlights the overlap in participation across modes, and examines factors that drive participation within and between modes. 104 pages.


Report #2: Age and arts participation: a case against demographic destiny 

Mark Stern analyzes the relationship between age and arts participation in the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts data for 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2008. The report concludes that age and year of birth are poor predictors of arts participation and that the age distribution of art-goers now generally mirrors that of the U.S. adult population. 88 pages.


Commentary: Is art in decline?  Depends on the questions you ask.

Cheryl Russell, DemoMemo blog, 2/28/11

Rather than tsk-tsking over the failure of Americans to engage with the arts, the NEA concludes in [this] new report that times may be "a-changing." Bravely, it even suggests that perhaps its own measures of arts participation are too narrow. The NEA references the findings of another arts survey, one that defines arts participation much more broadly. The Philadelphia Cultural Engagement Index, fielded in 2009, found much higher participation in a variety of what may be viewed as "nontraditional" art experiences. According to the Philadelphia study, 81% of respondents listen to music on the radio at least weekly, 39% sing at least weekly, 28% watch television shows about dance at least weekly, 11% write in a journal or blog at least weekly, 50% read books for pleasure at least weekly, 38% watch programs about science or history on TV at least weekly, and 19% dance socially at night clubs or parties at least monthly.  These differing findings reveal an important truth about survey research: the answers you get are always determined by the questions you ask.


Report #3: Arts education in America : what the declines mean for arts participation 

This report investigates the relationship between arts education and arts participation, based on data from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts for 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2008. The report also examines long-term declines in Americans' reported rates of arts learning -- in creative writing, music, and the visual arts, among other disciplines. Nick Rabkin and E.C. Hedberg find the declines are not distributed evenly across all racial and ethnic groups. 56 pages.


Commentary: "This is an equity issue for children of color"

Richard Kessler, ArtJournal blog Dewey 21c, 3/1/11

There's a very good write-up on the report in Education Week: "Just 26% of African-Americans surveyed in 2008 reported receiving any arts education in childhood, a huge drop from the 51% who reported as much in 1982."  While there are few who can rightfully say they are shocked, since other reports confirm the findings, this is the first we've seen to look at the NEA data across various points in time since 1982.  It's a sobering read that once again tells us that the real heart of the battle for access to a quality arts education is an equity issue for children of color.  And think about this: the data is up to 2008, when the Great Recession began, and included truly significant periods of funding increases to public education. If access to a quality arts education for children of color declined during such growth, what can we expect today and tomorrow?


Commentary: How to talk about declining arts education

Clay Lord, Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox, 2/25/11

I had the opportunity to listen in on a two-hour presentation [on the NEA's 3 new monographs.]  Nick Rabkin closed with some thoughts on the relationship between the decline in interest in the arts and the decline in arts education, and cautioned not to draw instant, direct connections between the two - at least not only in one direction. Declining arts education may contribute to declining interest in the arts, but it can also go the other way, becoming what Rabkin called "a bi-directional issue."   Rabkin also cautioned us to understand that moaning about arts attendance and its ties to arts education isn't going to get us very far with our legislators. He expected such arguments to be viewed as "trivial." Rather, we need to advocate for arts education on its own terms, secure in the knowledge that instituting such reform will likely generate some increase in arts attendance in the years to come.

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