NEA Research

Over the last 30 years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has conducted extensive research on public engagement with the arts. Every five years, the NEA administers the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. This large-scale, nationwide survey–which assesses various factors of arts engagement–began in 1982 and was most recently completed in 2012. The data and insights gained through SPPA are of obvious interest to arts advocates and arts organizations seeking to bolster arts support and/or participation. Also of interest are the social marketing implications that could be applied to such efforts.

“The implications from this research are significant. The findings show that there is great diversity in how people engage in the arts, and this gives us a framework to use our creativity to innovate new ways to reach these audiences.”

– Jane Chu, NEA Chairman

In 2012, the NEA partnered with two additional organizations, the General Social Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, to conduct a total of THREE different survey reports. According to the NEA website, “The data for the three reports is all from 2012, so for the first time the NEA can show a comprehensive view of a single year in the life of the arts and cultural sector from three different angles: supply, demand, and motivations for consumer behavior.” The importance of these reports and the information they provide cannot be overstated. Embedded in the data are significant insights and implications that can be utilized and applied through social marketing tactics and principles.

Report #1: When Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance

The first report examines traditional demographic and socio-economic characteristics of adults who attended visual and performing arts activities. Unlike previous NEA surveys, however, the 2012 study was the first to include additional in-depth perspectives on attitudes, motivations, and barriers concerning arts attendance. The social marketing implications in this report are twofold. First, the demographic data can be used as an effective means for market segmentation and targeting. Second, the insights regarding attitudes, motivations, and barriers allow us to gain a deeper understanding of potential audiences and can inform arts leaders about creating and communicating an effective value exchange. 

Below is the infographic for this report – click here to download a high-resolution version (courtesy of the NEA)high-res

Interestingly, time was a bigger barrier to arts attendance than cost, while socialization was a larger motivation than learning or experience. Knowing this information can (and should) have a significant impact on the way in which arts organizations design and promote programs, services, offerings, etc. Arts advocates who seek to strengthen support for the arts through increased participation can also utilize this information. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage the desired behavior (support, attend, participate) by offering a meaningful value exchange that increases desired benefits while also reducing barriers.

Report #2:  A Decade of Arts Engagement: Findings from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, 2002-2012

As the title implies, this report summarizes findings from a decade’s worth of SPPA implementation. According the the NEA website, the report “synthesizes findings across several modes of arts participation (attending the visual and performing arts, reading literature, creating/performing art, using digital media to consume art, and learning within the arts) to show how many American adults–and from which backgrounds–have engaged in art throughout the decade of 2002 to 2012.”

As one can imagine, synthesizing and interpreting this amount of information is a monumental task. After the data became available to the public through the U.S. Census Bureau, the NEA launched a contest for people to create interactive data visualizations. The winning submissions are a great resource for those looking to gain deeper insights and a clearer understanding of the data in this report.

Report #3: The Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA)

In this report, the NEA partners with the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to examine how the arts and cultural sector contributes to the national GDP. Information in this report may be useful in crafting a persuasive argument for supporting the arts through increased funding, especially for specific target audiences such as policy makers and corporations.

Surveys to Solutions

OK, so now that I’ve talked your ear off, be sure to check out this hour-long panel discussion featuring NEA Chairman Jane Chu, as she and several other guest panelists discuss and distil the findings of the three NEA reports. But seriously, if you have the time, it’s worth a listen.

Or, if you prefer, skip to 52:56 to hear the most important point.

The crucial function of surveys, research, reports, etc. is making sure that we’ve heard our audience and that we truly understand their attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, wants, and needs. Indeed, this is the core principle of social marketing, an audience-centered approach. Only by gaining a deep understanding of our audience can we begin to design and execute effective strategies for social change.