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Public Sentiments Towards the Arts:
A Critical Reanalysis of 13 Opinion Surveys

Working Paper #5, 1998

Becky Pettit & Paul DiMaggio


This paper summarizes and reviews studies of public perceptions of and sentiments towards the arts. It provides the first critical synthesis of such research based upon original secondary analyses of thirteen of the major data sets collected between 1973 and 1993. In so doing, it reports on what the surveys tell us about several questions of pressing interest to policy makers and others interested in the role of the arts in American society. To what extent do Americans support government funding of the arts, and from what level of government? To what extent do Americans believe that it is important for children to learn about the arts and that the arts are worthy of inclusion in the school curriculum? To what extent do Americans regard the arts as fundamentally important for the quality of community life, on the one hand, or the domain of a select few, on the other? To what extent do sentiments vary between men and women, African-Americans and Euro-Americans, the highly educated and the less schooled, the old and the young, and the wealthy and the less well off? And finally, what, if anything, can we infer about how these patterns have changed over time?

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