Humanities Indicators
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Art Museum Attendance
(Updated November 2017)

Art museums provide a tangible connection between the humanities and Americans’ lives, but the rate of art museum visitation among adults has been declining since the early 2000s. With respect to younger Americans, most early adolescents did not report visiting an art museum or exhibit (either with their class or on their own), and their rate of visitation did not change from 2008 to 2016.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2012, 21.0% of the U.S. adult population reported visiting a museum or art gallery in the previous year (Indicator V-14a)—the lowest level recorded over the three decades that data have been collected and almost six percentage points below the highest level reported (26.7%, in 1992). In that year, as in 2002, Americans ages 25–74 were more likely to visit museums than the youngest (18–24) and oldest (75+) adults.
  • The decline in art museum attendance that began among younger people at the turn of the century is now occurring among some older Americans. From 1982 to 2002, the museum visitation rate of Americans age 45 or older rose steadily. The rise was particularly striking among 45–54-year-olds, whose visitation rate increased by almost 11 percentage points. By 2012, however, the rate of visitation among these Americans was back down to its early 1980s level. The visitation among 55–64-year-olds remained above the 1982 level in 2012, but had fallen five percentage points from 2002. The exception to this trend was the substantial rise in visitation by the oldest Americans (those over 75 and older). In 2012, 15.5% of the oldest group had visited a museum in the previous year, up from 8.4% in 1982.
  • The trends described above resulted in a flattening out of previous differences among age groups with respect to art museum visitation over the 1982–2012 period. The first three decennial surveys found differences of approximately 19 percentage points between the age cohorts with the highest and lowest rates of visitation. In the 2012 survey, the gap between the highest and lowest visitation rates fell to seven percentage points (and to approximately 1.3 percentage points among the five age groups that comprise Americans ages 25–74).
  • A comparison of birth cohorts similar to that conducted by the Humanities Indicators for historical site visitation did not reveal any clear trends.
  • In 2016, 14% percent of eighth graders had visited an art museum, gallery, or exhibit with their class in the previous year (Indicator V-14b). This share was not measurably different from the share who indicated in 2008 that they had made such a trip with their class (meaning that, although the rates were not identical in the two years, the difference between them was not found to be statistically significant).[1]
  • The interactive visualization below compares different subgroups of students with respect to the likelihood of their having visited an art museum or exhibit with their class. While it reveals some variation in rates of visitation, none of the observed differences were statistically significant.
  • Students were more likely to have visited an art museum or exhibit on their own than with their class (Indicator V-14c). In 2016, a quarter of all eighth graders reported making such a trip in the previous year, a share that was not measurably different than that recorded in 2008.
  • There were statistically significant differences among student subgroups with respect to rates of art museum visitation outside of school. In 2016, 38% of Catholic school students (and 34% of all private school students) had visited an art museum or exhibit on their own, as compared to 25% of public school students. Girls were more likely to have visited on their own than boys, and students eligible for the free and reduced-cost lunch program were less likely to have visited than those whose higher family income rendered them ineligible for the program.
  • Rates of student visitation of art museums outside school also varied by race/ethnicity, with Hispanic students reporting a lower level of visitation in 2016 than white and Asian/Pacific Islander students. Additionally, parents’ education level was related to student visitation outside school. Thirty percent of students from families in which at least one parent had graduated from college reported visiting an art museum or gallery. For those students whose parents’ formal education concluded with a high school diploma, the rate was 21%.
  • For none of the subgroups examined here did rates of art museum visitation (field trips or outside of school) change measurably from 2008 to 2016.
V-14a: Percentage of Americans Who Visited an Art Museum or Gallery in the Previous 12 Months, by Age, 1982–2012
Source: National Endowment for the Arts, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (1982, 1992, 2002, 2012). Estimates generated using the National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture online data analysis system.
About this DataRelated Indicators
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V-14b: Share of Eighth Graders Who Visited a Museum on a Class Field Trip in the Previous Year, 2008 and 2016

* A reliable estimate was not available for Native American students. The available estimate for English language learners was not generalizable to the entire population of such students and was thus excluded from this indicator.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Arts Assessment. Data analyzed (using the NAEP Data Explorer) and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

Related Indicators
V-14c: Share of Eighth Graders Who Visited a Museum outside School in the Previous Year, 2008 and 2016

* A reliable estimate was not available for Native American students. The available estimate for English language learners was not generalizable to the entire population of such students and was thus excluded from this indicator.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Arts Assessment. Data analyzed (using the NAEP Data Explorer) and presented by the American Academy of Arts Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).

About this DataRelated Indicators

Endnotes

[1] p < .05 (This significance level was used for all of the tests performed as part of this analysis.)