Americans for the Arts Public Opinion Poll Overview has recently published a summary of their opinion poll about the arts. It does not come as a surprise to me that people are broadly in favor of the arts and participate at a moderately high rate—the questions are “motherhood-and-apple-pie” questions that would be difficult to disagree with. Some numbers are a bit lower than I would hope to see—only 68% of adults attended an arts event in the past year, and some are higher than I would expect—27% donated to an arts organization.
What Americans Believe About the Arts
The American public is more broadly engaged in the arts than previously understood—believing that the arts not only play a vital role in personal well-being and healthier communities, but that the arts are also core to a well-rounded education.
1. “The arts provide meaning to our lives.” 63 percent of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences,” 64 percent feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” and 73 percent say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world.”
2. “Most of us seek out arts experiences.” Seven in 10 American adults (68 percent) attended an arts event in the past year, like going to the theater, museum, zoo, or a musical performance.
3. “We often experience the arts in unexpected places.” An even greater proportion of Americans (77 percent) say they experienced the arts in a “non-arts” venue such as a park, hospital, shopping mall, or airport.
4. “Across demographic groups, the arts are part of our lives.” People of color were more likely to attend an arts event than their white counterparts (71 percent vs. 66 percent). Higher rates of attendance for people of color were noted for multiple art forms, including dance, museums, and theater.
5. “Arts institutions add value to our communities.” Regardless of whether people engage with the arts or not, 87 percent believe they are important to quality of life, and 82 percent believe they are important to local businesses and the economy.
6. “We donate to the arts.” 27 percent of the population (more than 1 in 4 Americans) made a donation to an arts, culture, or public broadcasting organization within the past year. Donors were typically younger and had higher incomes and education.
7. “We will support candidates who want to increase arts funding.” Americans are more than twice as likely to vote in favor of a candidate who increases arts spending from 45 cents to $1 per person than to vote against them (37 percent in favor, 16 percent against).
8. “We believe the arts are part of a well-rounded education.” Nine in ten American adults (88 percent) agree that the arts are part of a well-rounded K-12 education.
9. “We believe the arts should be taught in grades K–12.” 90 percent believe students should receive an education in the arts in elementary school, middle school, and high school. 82 percent say the arts should also be taught outside of the classroom in the community.
10. “We are making art in our personal time.” Half of all Americans are personally involved in artistic activities (49 percent) such as painting, singing in a choir, making crafts, writing poetry, or playing music.
11. “We engage in the arts because it makes us feel creative.” Among those who are personally involved in making art or displaying art in their home, 60 percent say that “arts and music outside of the home” makes them feel more creative—a rate that jumps to 70 percent for Millennials.
12. “Social media increases our exposure to the arts.” 53 percent of social media users say that they are more exposed to the arts thanks to connecting online. 59 percent agree that art created on social media is a legitimate form of art.
13. “Yes! Tattoos are art.” 27 percent of Americans boast a tattoo (12 percent have more than one). Three-quarters believe that tattoos are a form of art (73 percent).
14. “The arts unify our communities.” The personal benefits of the arts extend beyond the individual and to the community. 67 percent of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity” and 62 percent agree that the arts “helps me understand other cultures better.”
15. “Despite the benefits the arts provide, not everyone in our communities has equal access to the arts.” Despite the individual and community benefits, just 45 percent believe that “everyone in their community has equal access to the arts.”
Source: Americans Speak Out About The Arts, Americans for the Arts. 2016.
*The 3,020 respondents self-identified by race and Hispanic ethnicity. For the report, the “white” category is non-Hispanic whites. Included in the “people of color” category are blacks, Asians, all Hispanics, and others.
I’ll have to dive into the full report or even the supplementary data tables to see exactly what questions were asked and what biases there were in the survey. One that they note is that the survey was done online, and that the non-white subset of the sample skewed somewhat higher on education and wealth than the non-white population as a whole.
The higher attendance by non-whites coupled with the perception of unequal access is a little disturbing—particularly given the emphasis on appeals to elderly white people by so many of our major cultural institutions. Of course, there is an obvious reason for the the appeals to old white people—the same reason that people rob banks: because that’s where the money is. But younger generations are more interested in the arts, and so more should be done to incorporate them into the life of our arts institutions.
I am pleased that our local museum, Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, makes a point of reaching out to the whole community and attempting to bridge divides. I think that they have done an excellent job of including young folk (high-school and college age) in their events and planning, as well as a moderately good job of including Mexican culture (the main non-white culture in our area). I think that there is more to be done in incorporating Mexican and local Mexican-American art into the museum. They did recently have a very good display of the Kinsey African-American Art and History Collection, even though the African-American population in Santa Cruz County is quite small—about 1.4% according to the US Census. The Hispanic population is about 33.3%.
I was a little surprised that the poll found that 27% of the population have tattoos—in Santa Cruz, I would find an even larger number credible, but in the Midwest the numbers are likely much smaller. I wonder whether this number indicates a sampling bias in the survey, which would call all the numbers into question, or if tattoos really have become so mainstream.
I’m also a little surprised that MAH has not done a tattoo art exhibit yet (or did I miss one?), since tattoo art has been a big thing in Santa Cruz for a long time. For those of you who care, I don’t have any tattoos—not from any philosophical, religious, or æsthetic reason, but because I’ve never been able to think of any artwork that I’d be happy to have on my body permanently (also, I dislike pain).
I was interested in seeing what “arts and culture” events were the most popular (in terms of attendance in the previous year):
- Zoo, aquarium, or botanical garden 36%
- Historic site 30%
- Musical performance (Classical or popular) 29%
- Museum of history or science (including children’s museums) 25%
- Theater performance 24%
- Museum of art 23%
- Visual arts, crafts exhibition, art gallery 22%
- Opera/musical theater 13%
- Dance performance 13%
- Art or film festival 12%
- Literary event 8%
- Other 3%
- None 32%
I’m surprised that they did not include a category for arts and crafts fairs, antiques fairs, maker fairs, Renaissance fairs, and so forth—many people attend such events, but would probably not think of them in the context of this survey.
I also wonder how much of the attendance is “for the children’s sake” rather than personal interest—the heavy emphasis on zoos, aquaria, historic sites, history and science museums suggests that there may be some deliberate educational component for kids, rather than personal enjoyment. (I go to science museums and aquaria for fun when I travel, but many people do it only with kids.)
I note that theater minus musical theater is still at 11%, almost as big as opera/musical theater alone, which is pleasing but surprising—musical theater seems to get a lot more advertising and get performed in much larger venues than non-musical theater.