1997 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts: Summary Report
Report 39: Executive Summary
nationwide Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) was sponsored by the Research Division
of the National Endowment for the Arts. The 1997 SPPA was conducted by Westat Corporation of
Rockville, Maryland as a nationwide, stand-alone survey. Previous SPPA s had been supplements to the National
Crime Survey conducted by the Bureau of the Census. Although many of the questions were exactly the
same as those asked in previous
SPPA s, the differences in the conduct of the previous surveys make their results difficult
to compare with the 1997 results. The 1997 survey design permitted a number of improvements,
including a larger effective sample, more geographic details, greater flexibility in questionnaire
design, and more timely reporting of the survey results, all of which improve our understanding of
arts participation patterns.
From June through October of 1997 a sample of 12,349 people throughout the nation were asked
questions concerning (a) their attendance at live arts events, (b) their participation in the arts
through broadcast and recorded media, and (c) their personal performance or creation of art. The
respondents' replies indicate that half of the U.S. adult (18 and older) population attended at
least one of seven arts activities (jazz, classical music, opera, musical plays, non-musical plays,
ballet, or art museums) during the previous 12 months. This would translate to 97 million different
people attended one or more of these events during the year.
Thirty-five percent of American adults made at least one visit to an art museum or gallery in
1997. Because each visitor made an average of 3.3 visits per year, a total of 225 million visits
were made. Other arts activities with high participation rates were musical plays (25 percent),
non-musical plays and classical music (both 16 percent), and jazz and dance other than ballet (both
12 percent). Ballet and opera had attendance rates of 6 and 5 percent, respectively. Related
activities such as reading literature (63 percent) and visiting a historic park or an arts/craft
fair (both about 47 percent) also had high participation rates. These data are reported in detail
in Table 1 (see page 15).
The 1997 SPPA also asked
questions about Americans' participation in the arts through broadcast and recorded media. For
jazz, classical music, opera, and musical plays, the survey covered both watching on video
(television and video cassette recordings) and listening to radio and audio recordings
(phonographs, cassette tapes, and compact discs); for non-musical plays both video and radio were
applicable; and for dance and visual arts only video was relevant. Like prior SPPA s, the 1997 SPPA found substantially higher participation
rates for broadcast and recorded media than for live event attendance. For jazz, classical music,
and opera, for example, the rates of participation via these media were more than twice the rates
for live arts events.
The survey data indicate that more than ten million Americans participated in each of the
activities via each medium. Although dance and visual art were seen primarily via television, the
other art forms attracted very large numbers of listeners to radio and recordings. An estimated
eighty million Americans listened to classical music on the radio, and 67 million to recordings.
For jazz the numbers were 77 and 57 million, respectively (see Table 13, page 29).
The 1997 SPPA collected data on
the respondent's age, gender, race, education, and household income to permit analysis of arts
participation by these socio-demographic variables. An important finding was that participants in
the arts via media were more evenly distributed by race, age, income, and educational level than
were participants who attended live arts events.
The 1997 SPPA asked questions
about each respondent's participation in the arts by doing, that is, by personally performing or
creating art. Those who replied that they participated by doing also were asked whether they
performed in public or had their work displayed or published. The highest rates of personal
participation in 1997 were in creative photography (17 percent), painting/drawing/sculpting (16
percent), dance other than ballet (13 percent), creative writing (12 percent), and classical music
(11 percent). Weaving and other related arts also had high participation rates. The lowest rates
were in jazz and opera (both 2 percent) and in ballet (less than 1 percent). Table 18 (see page 34)
shows the rates and number of participants who personally performed or created art and the rates
and number of participants who did so in public. Data for performing in public demonstrate the
popularity of singing in groups. In 1997 more than 10 percent of the adult population-over 20
million people-sang publicly in a choir, chorus, or other ensemble.
The analysis of the demographic composition of personal performers and creators of art shows
that, for most arts activities, the highest rates of participation are found among minority groups.
For example, the rate of playing jazz was highest for African Americans and second highest for
Hispanics. Hispanics also had high participation rates in other dance and drawing. American Indians
had the highest rates of participation in other dance and photography, and Asians had the highest
participation rates in opera, musical plays, ballet, drawing, and writing.
Several new questions were asked in the 1997 SPPA . Some of these new questions concerned
the extent to which home computers were used in learning about the existence and details of live
arts events attended by the respondents (see page 32). About 8 percent of respondents used
computers for these purposes. Other questions asked whether the respondent used a home computer to
create works of art. New questions also asked about subscribing to series of performances and about
membership at art museums. Some questions investigated the reasons respondents did not attend a
larger number of arts events and how much they paid when they did attend. Lack of time, lack of a
companion, lack of suitable events, and inaccessibility were the primary deterrents to more
frequent attendance at arts events. Data about companions indicate that most companions are family
members, although dates and friends accompanied the respondents more than 40 percent of the time
Several questions asked about socialization in the arts, particularly addressing the amount of
exposure to the arts the respondents received as children, the lessons and classes they took at any
time during their lives, and how much they were exposing their own children to art. Respondents
exposed their own children to the arts at rates similar to their own exposures (see Table 24, page
42). Other questions investigated the respondents' music preferences and determined that the rank
orders were quite similar to those found in 1992 (see Table 29, page 48).
Respondents were asked about their rates of participation in leisure activities other than the
arts. When the responses were grouped in terms of flexibility of place and time of participation
and compared with groups of arts activities with similar characteristics, the patterns of public
participation were very similar for arts and other activities (see Table 26, page 44).
Detailed geographical information was collected in the 1997 SPPA . All the data relate to the respondent's
residence zip code, not where the arts activity took place. Small samples made comparison difficult
for some arts activities and some geographical areas. The data were reported for seven metropolitan
areas, ten individual states, and nine regions that include all 50 states (see pages 49Ü55).
Rates of participation, total attenders, and total attendance were tabulated for each geographical
component for each live arts activity, and the rate of participation was tabulated for each form of
participation via broadcast or recorded media. This information not only will allow for more
analysis of geographical differences in arts participation in 1997, but also provide a baseline for
future surveys to analyze geographical variables in arts participation over time.
To order a hard copy of the 1997 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts: Summary
Report, email the Webmanager. Please
include your name and mailing address.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506