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New Measurements for Arts Participation

Over the past several months, I have been deconstructing what we, as a field, mean when we talk about “arts participation” in light of what we are discovering about how people actually engage with arts and creative activities in their daily lives.  This thinking is inspired partly by our recent work on a forthcoming research monograph for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) about arts participation and creation utilizing data from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts(SPPA).  The focus of the work has been to analyze the multiple modes in which a person can participate in the arts using SPPA measurements – attendance, personal arts creation, and media-based participation.  How do people participate across and between these modes?  What is the relationship between creation and participation?  Most importantly, what new measures of arts participation could be effective in advancing policy nationally?  Thinking about these types of questions brought me to a recently released report by the Australia Council for the Arts called More Than Bums on Seats: Australian Participation in the Arts.  While the SPPA concentrates on measuring arts participation through behavior (e.g.,”Have you attended a ballet performance in the past 12 months?”), More Than Bums on Seats expands its focus to include attitudes towards arts and creative activities (e.g., “The arts should be as much about creating/doing these things yourself as being part of an audience”), and perceived benefits of the arts (e.g., “The arts help me feel part of my local community”). The final result of the study is a community segmentation model based on a combination of attitudes and behaviors towards arts participation.  I wonder what kinds of implications for practice and policy would such information yield if a national study of arts participation here in the U.S. were to include such measurements?  I’m looking forward to that discussion.

We will be sharing more about the NEA monograph in the upcoming months. Expected publication is September 2010.


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