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.

Does Blended Learning in Crafts and Art Favor E-Learning?

What is the best way to teach a craft or art technique? Is it through a person (class), printed text, diagrams and photos, and videos, or the blend of these now found in online classes? The NAMTA Artists & Art Materials 2012 Study (Hart, 2012) shows that artists typically use four different types of learning resources, most often books, magazines, online articles, online videos, friends, and workshops, indicating blended learning is likely the norm for creative people.

The new e-learning setup, for example on Craftsy.com, provides blended learning through personal interaction, video, diagrams, and text. E-learning is not new (see the mid-1990’s hype during the dot-com boom) but the slick and effective way of integrating different learning methods within it is.

This has important implications for everyone in the art and crafts industries. The answers to all these questions may shift (how much?) from the silos of people/print/videos to e-learning:

  • How do we most effectively teach the next generation of creative people?
  • How do we encourage people to try new products?
  • Where do we sell project kits?
  • How do we inspire people to create more art and keep them engaged?
  • How do we attract people to take up creative activities in the first place?

How much they shift to e-learning depends on many factors including the overall benefits of the learning mode. In-person classes can provide many benefits beyond learning, especially an enjoyable time among friends. Local classes also offer a payment and attendance schedule that supports higher class completion rates than the “whenever” schedule of e-learning. Classes in a retail setting provide an inspiring environment full of wonderful creative materials. Retailers can compete with e-learning if they do a great job with the features that online can’t supply as well, including an enjoyable social time, support to complete the class, and lots of inspiring materials.

A recent conversation with Liz Gipson, a well-regarded weaving teacher and video producer, brought forth this idea of blended learning originally described by Graven and MacKinnon in 2005. (See Exploring the e-Learning State of Art, Kahiigi, Ekenburg, Danielsson, and Hanson, 2005, for good scholarly article.)

Craftsy.com Coopetition with Creative Retailers and Media

The initial success of Craftsy.com, an e-learning site for creative people, supports the finding that 9% of active artists have taken a paid online art class ( See the 2012 NAMTA Artists & Art Materials Study produced by Hart). A recent Denver Post article provides intriguing data on Craftsy’s class enrollment (840,000), revenues ($12 million), venture funding, and current focus on fiber arts and cake decorating.

Craftsy is an important force because it is not focused on the 20-something hipster market you might expect; Craftsy serves the creative female 40-year-olds-and-up market. This is the core demographic targeted by specialty art supply, yarn, sewing, and craft retailers and media companies.

These  “classic” competitors would do well to examine how their own learning offerings stack up against Craftsy’s. Think of customer needs around learning: Does your business meet those learning needs better than Craftsy? How can you differentiate from Craftsy? Can you harness the Craftsy technology and teacher platform through a partnership with them?

U.S. Adult Participation in Creative Activities 1992-2008

More than 33 million adults created a painting, drawing, or sculpture or engaged in printmaking in 2008, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Participation in these fine arts grew 14% from 2002 to 2008. Participation in selected fiber arts and materials arts declined and participation in creating photographs and videos grew significantly.

Do not make overly-broad conclusions from this data, as the categories tracked by the NEA study do not include several large closely-related activities: knitting, beading, and mixed media.

Number of U.S. adults creating these works

Number of U.S. adults creating these works in the past 12 months

The data is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a highly reliable source. Do not sum these numbers, as there are overlaps in participation between these creative activities.