New data reveals how adults have engaged in the arts during COVID-19

A masked audience watches a performance at the Lied Center for the Performing Arts in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2020. Photo courtesy of the Lied Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska.

Washington— What has been the impact of COVID-19 on art participation? New research released today by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) notes that between July 2021 and July 2022, more than half of all adults created and/or performed art – similar to findings in 2017, the last time the survey was conducted. During the same time period, just under half of all adults attended in-person arts events, a significant drop from 2017. A separate survey found that 82 percent of respondents viewed or listened to arts activities through digital media between 2021 and 2022. These and other findings on in-person and virtual participation in the arts and on the reading habits of adults are available in two new NEA research publications: Patterns of Arts Participation in 2022: Highlights from the Public Participation in the Arts Survey and Online audiences for arts programming: Exploring virtual participation in the context of COVID-19.

NEA Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson said, “The National Endowment for the Arts has a long-standing commitment to providing the arts and culture field and the general public with accurate and relevant research. Collectively, these reports help reveal the state of arts participation in our country and serve as an important resource for understanding areas of growing interest, those showing decline, and demographic gaps in participation, among other trends.

Patterns of Arts Participation in 2022: Highlights from the Public Participation in the Arts Survey

Since 1982, the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) has been administered approximately every five years by the US Census Bureau. This report is the first look through the lens of federal survey data on how adults participated in arts activities in one year of the pandemic: a 12-month period from July 2021 to July 2022. The report examines areas such as in-person attendance at events for the arts, creating or presenting art, reading books or literature, viewing or listening to artistic content through media, or studying an art form. A comprehensive statistical report with SPPA data for 2022 will be published next year.

Key findings from this report include:

Creating Art:

  • More than half (52 percent) of the nation’s adults engaged in some form of art in 2022. This is similar to the share of adults who, using a different set of measures, reported creating and/or performing art in 2017
  • For most art forms, the share of adults who personally create and/or perform has either increased modestly or remained unchanged since 2017. Art-making activities that have shown growth since 2017 include leatherwork, metalwork and woodworking. and playing musical instruments. Other activities, such as working with textiles, taking artistic photographs or creative writing, declined in 2020 but have since returned to 2017 levels.
  • Social dancing is the most popular activity across all forms of personal performance and art making, involving 22 percent of adults.
  • The next most popular activity is singing, whether alone or in a choir, although the proportion of adults who sing fell by five percentage points from 2017 to 2022.
  • Other dips in personal creativity and performance include performing or practicing dance; restoring, rebuilding or customizing objects; and cooking as an artistic activity.
  • Most adults who have learned an art subject have done so through friends or family, or by teaching themselves.

Arts visit – in person:

  • Just under half (48 percent) of all adults have attended at least one arts event in person. This is six percentage points less than reported in 2017.
  • Attendance rates were down from 2017 for almost every type of arts activity listed in the survey – visits to an art museum or gallery and attending jazz, classical or Latin/salsa music performances, musical and non-musical plays, craft fairs and outdoor festivals of the performing arts, opera and ballet and other dance forms, and films.
  • However, attendance rates rose 15 percent, to 21 percent of adults, for the “other” performing arts category. This can include all types of music, dance and theater events not specified in the survey, such as rock or pop, rap or hip-hop, folk or country, or music from other countries and cultural traditions, in addition to comedy/improv , circus acts or magic shows.
  • In terms of visual arts attendance, the only activity that did not experience a major decline was visits to parks, buildings, monuments or neighborhoods for historical or design purposes – this participation rate fell by just two percentage points.
  • In 2022, outdoor facilities (e.g., parks, pavilions, amphitheatres) were among the most popular places to visit the arts in person.
  • Social media and peer-to-peer communications were the most frequently cited personal arts learning mechanisms that respondents attended.

Consumption of art through media:

  • As in previous years, the largest share of adults who participated in the arts did so by consuming art through electronic or digital media (75 percent).
  • The rate of listening to music via electronic or digital media held steady between 2017 and 2022, with the exception of jazz and classical music or opera, which saw a decline.
  • Many other forms of media arts consumption declined over the five-year period, including viewing or listening to theater productions and dance performances, as well as programs, podcasts, or other video or audio content about the visual arts or about books or writers.

Reading:

  • In 2022, 53 percent of US adults have read some literature and/or books (up from 57.1 percent in 2017).
  • Data shows a sharp decline in reading over the past decade. The percentage of US adults who have read at least one book (in print or electronic form) in 2022 is 48.5, down 6.1 percentage points from 2012.
  • The percentage of US adults who read literature – novels or short stories, poetry and plays – was lower in 2022 than in 2017. In particular, the percentage of US adults who read novels or short stories , is down 17 percent from 45.2 percent in 2012 to 37.6 percent in 2022—the lowest share recorded in the survey.
  • The percentage of US adults who read poetry fell to 9.2 percent in 2022 from 11.7 percent in 2017, but remained above the 2012 level of 6.7 percent. A new question from the 2022 survey asked about listening to poetry, with 4.8 percent of adults (11.8 million) reporting listening to poetry via broadcasts, recordings or web streaming. (More information is available in the April 2023 NEA blog post: A new study reports the size of poetry’s audience—streaming included)

Demographic Differences:

  • Accompanying tables to this report look at arts attendance by different demographics. For most types of activities/events, the declines seen in arts attendance are borne by both genders, whites, older adults, and those with college degrees. Exceptions include:
  • Musical plays; classical music; outdoor performing arts festivals and craft fairs – Hispanic visitors are also down
  • Non-musical plays and Latin music – declines are also seen in younger age groups
  • Non-ballet dance forms – declines are also seen in African Americans and Latinos, as well as younger adults
  • Art museums and galleries – African-American and Asian visitors are also down

Raw data for the full 2022 Public Participation in the Arts Survey will be available later this year in the NEA’s National Arts and Culture Data Archive.

Online audiences for arts programming: Exploring virtual participation in the context of COVID-19

The 2022 General Social Survey (GSS), administered by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, is another tool for understanding arts participation. Supported by the NEA in partnership with the National Science Foundation, the 2022 GSS Arts Module asked respondents to reflect on their arts during the first year of the pandemic (March 2020 to March 2021) and report whether in the past 12 months period, they participated at a higher, lower, or identical rate. The report also looked at how responses varied by demographic subgroup.

Key findings from this report include:

  • 82 percent of respondents attended some type of digital arts activity between 2021 and 2022, such as: watching or listening to archived and live performing arts events on the web; listening to art-related podcasts; watching or listening to archived and live webreading events; conducting online art lessons; and attending online art exhibitions or tours. (This is roughly comparable to the 75 percent of adults reporting engagement in digital art activities in the 2022 SPPA, which used a variety of questions and methods.)
  • The largest share of adults (69 percent) attended web-archived performing arts, followed by 43 percent attending live-streamed performing arts.
  • Approximately 30 percent of respondents reported doing one or more digital art activities more often than they did in the first year of the pandemic.
  • Higher percentage of women; 18- to 24-year-olds; African Americans, Hispanics, and non-white and non-Hispanic adults report engaging in virtual arts—and report doing so more often than they did in the first year of the pandemic.
    • Overall, a slightly higher proportion of women than men reported engaging in any type of digital arts activity. This trend was consistent across many types of digital activities, with the exception of watching or listening to live performing arts.
    • More women than men report participating in one or more digital art activities more often than they did in the first year of COVID-19.
    • Adults aged 18-24 report higher levels of engagement in digital arts activities than older age groups and are also more likely than other age groups to say they now do these activities more often , than in the first year of the pandemic.
    • Almost all Black/African American and other non-Hispanic and non-White respondents, and the majority of Hispanic respondents, reported engaging in at least one type of digital art content in the past 12 months.
    • Roughly half of all Black/African American and other non-Hispanic and non-White respondents and over a third of Hispanic respondents report doing one or more digital activities more often than they did in the first year of the pandemic—compared to 24 percent of White respondents.
    • Respondents from all educational backgrounds reported strong engagement with digital arts activities, with those with a college degree reporting the highest percentage and those with a post-secondary diploma the lowest. However, 41 percent of adults who did not earn a high school diploma said they now engage in one or more digital arts activities more often than they did in the first year of the pandemic, which was the highest percentage of any educational level. group.

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