Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies - A Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
How Many People Participate in Arts and Cultural Activities?

Definition of Terms

The answer to the question, "How many people participate in arts and cultural activities?" depends on several things:

  1. What specific activities are included in "arts and cultural activities"?
  2. What counts as "participation"?
  3. Are we counting the number of "visits" to events or places, or are we counting the number of individuals who made visits, regardless of the number of times each person may have visited or participated over a period of time?

Defining "Arts and Cultural Activities"

"The arts" mean many things to many people. Research has typically focused on attendance or participation in seven "benchmark" activities:

  • jazz (music) performance
  • classical music performance
  • opera
  • musical plays
  • non-musical plays
  • ballet
  • visiting art museums/galleries

Other arts and cultural activities for which attendance or participation data have been collected include:

  • dance performance other than ballet
  • visiting historical parks/monuments/buildings/neighborhoods
  • reading literature
  • attending arts/crafts fairs and festivals

Defining "Participation"

People may "participate" in the arts in several ways.

  • Attending arts events or visiting arts or cultural institutions in person.
  • Watching, listening to, or reading about arts-oriented programming through the media; e.g., one can listen to a concert broadcast on a radio station, watch a ballet or dramatic performance on television, "visit" a museum on television, or through the internet.
  • Personal engagement in artistic activities; i.e., performing art for oneself or in public or creating a work of art for oneself or for exhibition to the public. Individuals may engage in artistic activities on their own, in organized groups, in classes, and so forth.

Does "Participation" Mean "Total Visits" or "Total Visitors"?

Sometimes the relevant statistic needed to answer a particular question about arts participation is "total visits," while at other times, "total visitors" is more relevant. Total visits are relevant, for example, to understanding the sources and trends of arts organizations' revenues. On the other hand, the number of "total visitors" is relevant to understanding the reach of arts organizations (or art forms) into the general public, or put differently, how many people have been exposed to different types of arts and culture. Arts organizations concerned with developing audiences need both types of information -- they need to know if audiences are comprised of the same people showing up multiple times or if their composition is constantly changing. For some analyses, it is also useful to know if audience members (and potential audience members) cross over from one kind of event to another or if they tend to stay with the same kinds of events.


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