Americans Speak Out About the Arts: An In-Depth Look at Perceptions and Attitudes about the Arts in America

Posted by Randy I. Cohen, Jul 13, 2016 0 comments

It is undeniable—the arts transform people and communities every day. There are many studies that document the social, educational, and economic benefits of the arts to communities. But how does the American public feel about the arts? Do they value artistic activities and arts education? Do they feel the arts are an important part of their lives and do they support government funding for the arts?

In December 2015, we put these questions directly to the public to find out. Working with Ipsos Public Affairs, we surveyed 3,020 American adults online, making it one of the largest public opinion studies about the arts ever conducted. As one might expect when hearing from the public, we find a mix of assumptions challenged and observations confirmed.

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. Here are a few things we saw in the survey results:

  • The arts and our better selves. In a society struggling to find equity and social justice, Americans believe the arts improve the quality of our communities. 67 percent 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.” These quality-of-life and well-being benefits are not limited to the affluent, educated, or a particular racial group. Rather, they cut across all socioeconomic strata. Despite the individual and community benefits, just 45 percent believe that “everyone in their community has equal access to the arts.”
  • The arts are prevalent in our communities. We are more likely to experience the arts outside of the traditional arts venues than inside. 68 percent attended an arts event in the past year, such as the theater, museum, zoo, or a musical performance. Yet, an even greater proportion of Americans say they experienced the arts in a "non-arts" venue such as a park, hospital, shopping mall, or airport (77 percent).
  • Americans show overwhelming support for arts education. 88 percent believe the arts are part of a well-rounded education for K-12 students, including 56 percent who strongly agree (versus just 7 percent who disagree). However, 27 percent believe that students in their community don’t have enough access to the arts, most notably in suburban (31 percent) and rural (43 percent) communities.
  • Government funding for the arts is viewed favorably. 43 percent believe that current government funding of the arts is not enough, while 26 percent believe it is just right. It comes as no surprise, then, that the respondents who approve federal government increasing spending from 45 cents to $1 per person on grants to arts organizations greatly outweighs those who disagree (55 percent vs. 19 percent).
  • And, because National Tattoo Day is just around the corner (you knew there had to be one, right?). 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).

You can read more about the survey and download the full report here, as well as a handy one-pager highlighting 15 things Americans believe about the arts.

Has the public challenged any of your assumptions about the arts? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and look for regular blog posts exploring different aspects of the survey over the next several months.

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