Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Arts Engagement

Only 21 percent of American adults visited an art museum or gallery in 2012. Image: National Museum of the American Indian. Source: materialworldblog.com

Alexander Forbes ‘Attendance has Major Implications for the US Economy’ artnet news 14 January 2015

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has released a set of three studies of unprecedented scope into arts engagement and its economic impact in the United States. The studies focus particularly on 2012 but also offer comparative data between previous years in which polls regarding arts attendance were taken. (The older data did not include information about attendees’ motivations or the subsequent economic impact of their engagement.) This latest effort also manages to debunk some of the central myths exploited by arts’s detractors, who reject them as a luxury during a tough economic climate.

First, the basics: the report most heavily flags the 71 percent of the US population that used electronic media to access the arts—this includes music and TV/film streaming services—and the 51 percent of the adults who attended a concert, a performance, or an art exhibit in 2012. At first glance, while not phenomenal, those rates aren’t exactly awful either. But they fail to present the whole picture. Overall, audiences across the fine arts are falling.

Attendance to what the report calls “benchmark arts activities” (jazz events, classical music performances, opera, musical plays, non-musical plays, ballet, and art museums or galleries—singled out due to their having been tracked over time not, the report states, “because of any differential significance or value to the arts”) has been on a steady decline since 1992. In that year, 41 percent of adults attended at least one benchmark art activity.

Twenty years later, in 2012, just 33.4 percent of the US adult population attended such an event. And only 21 percent of American adults visited an art museum or gallery in 2012.

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