Title: A Closer Look at Arts Engagement in California

Author(s): Jennifer Novak Leonard, Jaclyn Wong, Ned English

Publisher: James Irvine Foundation

Year: 2015

URL: https://culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu/sites/culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu/files/SPPA_CA_Report_Jan2015.pdf

Topics: arts participation

Methods: Analysis of California respondents to the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts

What it says: “A Closer Look at Arts Engagement in California” was commissioned as part of a series of interconnected analyses by the Irvine Foundation of arts participation data in the Golden State. As a framing device, the study emphasizes changes in the definition of participation coinciding with changes in California’s – and the country’s – demographics. The most common form of arts participation is through electronic media, with 77% of adults accessing arts through “TV, radio, computers, or handheld or mobile devices.” Attendance rates for attending and making art are 53% and 54%, respectively. The report indicates a range of participation differences by demographic attributes (even after controlling for other factors), including lower participation by Asian/Pacific Islander adults, lower participation by immigrants, and other differences by education, income, age, and metro/non-metro location. The study also reports high rates of arts learning that do not involve taking a formal class or lesson.

What I think about it: Given that the underlying dataset (the Current Population Survey) is solid, there is little reason to doubt the findings. The fact that the study is limited to California decreases its value outside of that state, but there are comparisons to the rest of the US included in the appendix and it seems safe to assume that any differences are mostly minor. Because of the “grand tour” approach adopted by survey analyses of this genre, the takeaways will mostly depend on what questions the reader is coming in with. That said, the study does make a valuable contribution to the overall participation literature by aggregating various participation modes into helpful categories like “participation through media” and “art-making and art-sharing.”

What it all means: Looking at the demographic breakdowns, there is no broad form of arts participation that is engaged in as much by people who have not attended college as by those who have; the same is true of income, though the data is a bit noisier. That suggests strongly that informal arts are not some kind of dramatic equalizing force across socioeconomic class, although the disparities are muted a bit compared to benchmark arts participation. Interestingly, this is true even of participation through media, indicating that even though low-SES adults watch more TV overall, they are not watching as much music, theater, dance, visual arts, or literature on TV as their high-SES counterparts. The results by metro/non-metro participation are of additional interest: respondents living outside the Bay Area, Sacramento, LA and San Diego were more likely to experience the arts via TV and radio and read books, but less likely to attend in person. This lends support to the theory that people in rural areas (who may also have lower incomes and levels of education) are more likely to experience arts in the home and rely on media of various kinds.