Primary tabs

The National Endowment for the Arts Releases New Research


The National Endowment for the Arts has released new research that reveals that despite decades of declining arts attendance in the performing and visual arts, recent rates of U.S. adult attendance are holding steady. 

Attending visual or performing arts, or going to the movies is the most popular form of cultural attendence in the U.S., with 66% of adults having done so in the last 12 months. In 2015, nearly 32 percent of U.S. adults totaling 76 million people attended a live music, theater, or dance performance over a 12-month period, while 19 percent of adults or 45 million attended an art exhibit. Both of these rates are similar to the share of adults who attended in 2013. That represents a reversal of long term declines.  In 1992 this live performing arts rate was 42%.

The share of adults who have personally performed or created artworks remained stable at 45% of the population. These activities could include playing a musical instrument; performing or practicing singing; doing acting or dancing; making visual art (including painting, sculpture, photography, and films); doing crafts; or doing creative writing. See the graph below for proportions of adults engaging in different cultural activities.


One noteable area artistic participation that has continued to decline is adults who read literature, where the participation rate dropped almost 20% from 2002-2015 (see chart below).

Additional findings include:

  • The importance of childhood arts education. NEA found “…a strong association between childhood arts experiences and adult attendance at arts events,” while controlling for educational attainment, gender, age, and other factors. Adults who visited an art museum as a child were 4.8 times more likely to visit as an adult. The NEA also found arts participation was positively associated with both education and access to arts organizations. 
  • Young adults, ages 18 to 24, tend to participate in the arts at higher rates than adults in general. They are more likely to attend live performances, see movies, play instruments, create visual artwork, and do creative writing.
  • In general women participate in the arts at higher rates than men, particularly in live music, theater, dance events, and art exhibits, and women are more likely to be literary readers. Men are more likely to play a musical instrument, while women and men participate equally in visiting sites for historic or design value, going to the movies, and acting.
  • Non-Hispanic whites are highly represented, while they make up 74% of the audience for live music, theater, and dance, they make up 65% of the U.S. population.  Among adults who practice and perform singing, African Americans are highly represented.

Both sets of briefs reference the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA), and the Annual Arts Basic Survey (AABS). SPPA is conducted on a five year basis, making it an effective source for studying parts participation patterns over long intervals. AABS is less detailed than the SPPA but offers annual estimates of arts participation, allowing more frequent trend analysis

For more information check out:

Arts Data Profile 11: State-Level Estimates of Arts Participations Patterns: