Survey Says: Public Participation in the Arts Declined in 2008

According to a recent survey conducted in partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the U.S. Census Bureau, public participation in the arts declined to its lowest level since 1982 when the NEA began the poll.

The survey concluded the downturn in the economy over the last two years was likely a contributing factor to the decline in the number of American adults attending arts and cultural events. Almost 35% of U.S. adults attended at least one arts performance in 2008 compared with nearly 40% reported 1982, 1992 and 2002.

According to the survey, those attending performance art events were increasingly older. However, those adults 45 to 54 (traditionally considered dependable arts participants) declined for all artistic disciplines other than musical theatre. Only 36% in this age group reported attending at least one arts event in 2008, down from 46% in 2002.

The survey did reveal people are increasingly turning toward new media for arts experiences. The Internet and broadcast media were listed as the most likely venues for artist engagement. Forty-seven million adults downloaded, watched, or listened to music, theater or dance performances online. Most respondents said they did so at least once a week. More Americans reported viewing or listening to broadcasts or recordings of arts events rather than attend them live, with the exception of live theater.

The survey also reported that since 1982, the number of Americans 18-24 years of age who said they had any music education experience in their life decreased by more than one-third. For visual arts education, the number declined by 50%.

Arts participation declined in all geographic regions of the country, but some regions more significantly than others. Arts participation West Central states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana) declined by 6.2%, followed by a 5.5% decline in East South Central states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi). The slimmest rate of decline was reported in New England state where participation dropped by 0.3% from 2002 to 2008.  Respondents from East North Central states (including Indiana) recorded a 3.9% decline in arts participation.

On the positive side, people who say they participate in the arts are 2 to 3 times more likely to be involved in civic and volunteer activities. Twenty-percent of those responding said they owned original arts and one-third said the purchased the original work between 2007 and 2008. Ten-percent said they had created or performed an artistic piece in 2008, up from 8% in 2002. Seven percent of adults said they engaged in creative writing – unchanged from 2002 – and 13% said they played a musical instrument.