A Decade of Arts Engagement: Findings From the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, 2002–2012


Research Abstract
A Decade of Arts Engagement: Findings From the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, 2002–2012

The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) is the nation’s largest, most representative survey of adult patterns of arts participation. It tracks various arts activities that Americans (aged 18 and over) report having done in the course of a year. It also asks questions about adults’ preferences for different kinds of music, and it seeks to understand participation in non-arts leisure events such as sports and exercise, outdoor activities, and civic and social affairs.

Since 1982, when the SPPA first was conducted, the original survey instrument has been revised and enlarged to accommodate questions about new and different forms of arts participation. In 2002, the survey asked, for the first time, questions about filmmaking, photography, and the reading of books not required for work or school. Mention of the Internet debuted on the 2002 questionnaire. And in 2008, Latin or salsa music was added to a roster of performing arts activities one might have attended. Despite each wave of changes to the survey, several core questions about attendance and reading have remained largely intact since 1982. A subset of the items on attendance— representing a cross-section of the visual and performing arts— are called “benchmark” activities. For years they have been used to generate trend data monitored by the NEA and by many arts and cultural funders, practitioners, and researchers. In preparing for the 2012 SPPA, the NEA’s Office of Research & Analysis (ORA) sought to respond to frequently raised concerns that the benchmark attendance variables are no longer a suitable proxy for the rich and diverse array of participatory arts activities now taking place. Consequently, 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.

A 2013 NEA report, How a Nation Engages with Art: Highlights from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts , gave a “first look” at results from the 2012 survey. It offered topline figures for arts participation in various categories, and made comparisons with data from the previous SPPA year (2008). The present report goes deeper.

This report synthesizes findings across several modes of arts participation (attending the visual and performing arts, reading literature, creating/performing art, using digital media to consume art, and learning within the arts) to show how many American adults--and from which backgrounds--have engaged in art throughout the decade of 2002 to 2012. Based on the NEA's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), conducted in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau.


Silber, Bohne and Triplett, Tim
NX220.D43 2015
January 2015

National Endowment for the Arts
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