2012 NEA SPPA Data on Visual Arts Participation Not Accurate

nea-sppa-2012-coverDo not use the change from 9% in 2008 to 5.7% in 2012 regarding visual arts participation. Other data indicates participation has not decreased for “traditional” visual arts. The National Endowment for the Arts Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (NEA SPPA) data for 2008 and 2012 indicate visual arts participation decreased by about one-third. Not so. The drop is because the NEA changed the question context and wording from 2008 to 2012.

The question context changed from a list of participation questions in 2008 to making painting and sculpture an afterthought to digital art creation in 2012. The 2008 question was “During the last 12 months did you do any painting, drawing, sculpture, or printmaking activities?” The 2012 question was “During the last 12 month did you create any other visual art, such as paintings, sculpture, or graphic design?” The phrasing makes the previous question about creating with digital tools the default visual art activity. This is not how artists see it. Hart surveyed more than 5,000 U.S. artists in December 2014. Artists use digital tools alongside traditional materials and use the digital realm to share what they create. Digital and physical art exist together.

The 2012 SPPA question wording left out drawing and mixed media. This would easily decrease the participation rate by one-third. 67% of artists participate in drawing. 53% of artists create mixed media. Ideally the question would ask “During the last 12 months did you create any paintings, drawings, mixed media, or three-dimensional art?”

The 2015 NAMTA Artists and Art Materials Study concludes 22 million U.S. adults, about 9% of the population, created paintings, drawings, or sculpture in 2014. This is based upon sales data from major art materials suppliers and retailers, artist surveys, and college fine art degrees awarded.