How a nation engages with art: highlights from the 2012 survey of public participation in the arts

27 Sep 2013

This report presents results from an initial analysis of the 2012 SPPA. It contains statistics with demographic insights about U.S. adults' participation across five modes of art activity: attending; reading books and literature; consuming through electronic media; making and sharing; and learning. Findings are discussed for specific art forms and trend data provided where possible. Also includes links to additional data and resources for researchers.

The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) is the largest and most reliable survey of how American adults (ages 18 and older) engage with the arts. On behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the United States Census Bureau has conducted the survey six times since 1982, with the most recent wave occurring in 2012. This report presents initial summary findings from the 2012 survey year. A more comprehensive summary report, focusing on a decade of trends revealed by the survey (2002–2012), will be available in 2014.

The study of arts participation patterns is cogent to arts organizations, arts funders, and cultural economists—who have used prior surveys to inform their understanding about arts audiences or to gauge public demand for specific arts experiences. At a more fundamental level, the survey showcases the stunning plurality of art forms, genres, venues, and events and activities that constitute arts participation as a whole. This information can be reviewed alongside—and in direct relationship to— other key variables about our nation’s adult population: what it looks like, how it behaves, and how it changes over time.

Federal data on arts participation, therefore, can contribute to a more accurate profile of our citizenry. More accurate because, without addressing the proclivities of Americans from all backgrounds to explore, imagine, and create, we would have, at best, an imperfect grasp of their values and aspirations. The SPPA thus offers policy-makers, journalists, educators, and the broader public a rare glimpse of a dimension of American life that surely deserves more weight in our national discourse.

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