Art-Goers in Their Communities: Patterns of Civic and Social Engagement

Author: Bonnie Nichols

Publication Year:

Media Type: Report


This report from the National Endowment for the Arts explores the relationship between people who particpate in arts and culture to their invovlement in civic life.


Recent attempts to study arts participation as a factor in strengthening the lives of communities have focused on quantifying economic or social impacts of artists and arts organizations. For its own part, the National Endowment for the Arts has contributed to such research with a series of reports about artists in the U.S. workforce.1 Since 2006, however, NEA researchers have examined civic benefits associated with arts activity through the lens of the participant.

The NEA’s periodic Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) allows researchers to study the correlations between U.S. adults’ self-reported levels of arts engagement and a range of positive civic and social behaviors. This Research Note incorporates data from the 2008 SPPA.

In keeping with previous NEA research, our analysis finds that Americans who attend arts performances, visit art museums or galleries, or read literature are particularly active members of their communities. In 2008, for example, more than half of all adults who attended art museums or live arts events said they had volunteered at least once in the past year. For the general adult population, by contrast, the volunteer rate was much lower—32 percent of all Americans 18 and older.

Although this Note draws conclusions similar to those of previous NEA reports, it examines a wider range of civic and social activities.2 Besides analyzing volunteer rates among arts participants, the Note tracks civic activities captured by two new questions in the SPPA: attending community meetings and voting in a presidential election. Also new to the 2008 survey are questions concerning arts attendance at schools and places of worship, as well as questions about taking children to out-of-school arts experiences. [excerpt p. 1]

Arts & Intersections: Political Activation

Categories: Participation, Civic Dialogue and Social Change


Series Title: NEA Research Note

Edition: #98



Pages: 17

Resources: Document


Name: National Endowment for the Arts

Website URL: