Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies - A Program of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
How Do Attitudes Towards Artists Vary Across Communities?

The American Perceptions of Artists Survey, sponsored by The Urban Institute and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2002, measured perceptions of artists by the American public nationwide and in the following nine metropolitan areas: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC. The survey measured opinions about artists in general, individual relationships to artists, and participation in a variety of specific art forms such as music, theatre, and dance.

How much do metropolitan residents think artists contribute to society?

As reported in a related CPANDA Quick Fact, 27% of American adults nationwide stated that artists contribute "a lot" to society, compared with 26% who stated that artists contribute either "a little" or "nothing" to society. Do people in major metropolitan areas have substantially different perceptions of artists than the United States populace as a whole?

In six of the nine cities surveyed, the percentage of respondents who stated that artists contribute "a lot" to society was within 5 percentage points (the margin of error for the city surveys) of the national sample. Of these cities, only Houston had a smaller percentage of adults (23% compared to 27% nationwide) who perceived artists as contributing a lot to society. The three cities whose perceptions of artists differed the most from the national average, all in a positive direction, were San Francisco (41% "a lot"), Seattle (35%), and New York (35%).

There were also three cities in which more residents than the national average stated that artists contribute little or nothing to society. Residents of Houston (37%), Los Angeles (32%), and New York (29%) all perceive artists as making less of a contribution to society than the public nationwide (26%).

Surprisingly, New York City residents are both more likely to think that artists contribute a lot to society and to think artists contribute little or nothing to society. While the latter finding is within the margin of error, this indicates a sharp divide in perceptions of artists across the New York metropolitan area.

Graph: Perceptions of Artists' Contribution to Society - 2002.  (Source: 2002 Survey of American Perception of Artists)

Do metropolitan residents know more artists than adults nationwide?

Respondents to the American Perceptions of Artists Survey were also asked whether they knew any professionals or serious amateurs in six different artistic genres - music, theater, dance, film or video, visual arts, and writing. The genres were defined broadly so that someone who "does music" could be a singer, songwriter, composer, or musician, and the visual arts included painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography.

A majority of adults nationwide knew someone in music (57%) or visual arts (55%), but only 20% knew anyone in film or video. For most genres and in most cities, respondents to the metropolitan area surveys did not differ substantially from the public nationwide. Notably, the percentage of San Francisco area residents who reported knowing a professional or serious amateur artist was substantially larger than the proportion nationwide in each of the six genres. No other city's residents were acquainted with artists in such consistently large proportions.

Percentage of Adults Who Know a Professional Or Serious Amateur Artist - 2002 (Source: 2002 Survey of American Perceptions of Artists)

The data from the American Perceptions of Artists Survey 2002 can be accessed through CPANDA for further analysis. Other questions that might be analyzed include: Are people who belong to a museum more likely to know an artist than others in society? Do the demographics of New York City residents who feel artists contribute a lot to society differ from the demographics of those who said artists contribute little or nothing?

Explore these and other questions through FACTOID, available through the Online Analysis link within each of the ten American Perceptions of Artists surveys.


Princeton University Home Tel: (609) 258-5180; E-mail: