What the Declines Mean for Arts Education

Executive Summary

The Surveys of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPAs), conducted for the National Endowment for the Arts, have shown a steady decline in the rates of adult attendance at most “benchmark” arts events — specifically, classical music and jazz concerts, musical and non-musical plays, opera, and ballet performances — as well as declines in other forms of adult arts participation, including personal creation or performance of art and adult arts education — since 1982. The reasons for these declines, and potential strategies to mitigate or reverse them, are of vital importance to American artists, cultural policymakers, arts organizations, and other stakeholders concerned about the future of American culture. An analysis of 1992 SPPA data found that “arts education was the strongest predictor of almost all types of arts participation (arts performance being the exception).”5 The present study analyzes data from four administrations of the SPPA — 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2008 — to address several important questions prompted by that finding.

Was the strong relationship between arts education and arts participation found in 1992 consistent across all four administrations of the SPPA?

Arts education had a strong relationship with adult arts participation across all four waves of the SPPA. Figure 1 (see page 14) demonstrates that having had any childhood or adult arts education was significantly correlated with attendance at benchmark arts events. More than 50 percent of adults who indicated that they had had any childhood arts education attended a benchmark event in the year before each survey, while fewer than 30 percent of those who had no childhood arts education attended a benchmark event. More striking results are apparent in the relationship between arts education as an adult and arts participation as an adult. Nearly 70 percent of those who had any arts education as an adult attended a benchmark event in the year preceding each survey, while 28 percent of Americans who had no arts education as an adult attended a benchmark event. Although adult classes or lessons appear to have a stronger association than childhood experiences with benchmark arts attendance, it is important to note that most Americans who had arts education as an adult also had had arts education as a child. Arts education also showed strong associations with personal creation or performance, as well as consumption of the arts through media.

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