Rabkin, N. and Hedberg, E. (2011). Arts education in America: What the declines mean for arts participation. Based on the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Research Report #52. Washington, DC: National Endowment for the Arts.


This report examines the association between arts education and art participation for adults found in the 1992 administration of the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). Regression analyses of the 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2008 SPPA administrations revealed that arts education was the most influential of all factors captured on any of these administrations in relation to arts participation. The surveys show a general trend of declining rates of childhood arts education, particularly among low-income and minority children.

Key Findings:

  • The study found a relationship between arts education and art participation as an adult across the various SPPA administrations.
  • More arts education increased the likelihood of arts participation. Those with any arts education were twice as likely to attend an activity as those without any arts education. Those who took arts education in two or more art forms were three times as likely to participate in the arts than those without any education.
  • Those with arts education were more likely to personally create art or perform.
  • Arts education is associated with participating in arts through the media (internet, recordings, broadcast).
  • Educational attainment, parents’ educational attainment, age, and higher socioeconomic status are also positively associated with arts participation, but these factors are not as influential on arts participation as arts education.
  • Childhood arts education declined from 1982 to 2008. Childhood arts education declines are likely associated with reductions in arts in school. Low income, black, and Hispanic children disproportionately saw more of the decline in childhood arts education.
  • Arts education among young adults 18 to 24 was inexplicably erratic during the period studied. Participation increased from 1982 to 1992, but dropped from 1992 to 2008.

Significance of the Findings:

Since respondents were more likely to engage in adult arts education if they had engaged in childhood arts education, and they in turn were more likely to participate in the arts, it seems that increasing childhood arts education is crucial, additionally for low-income and ethnic-minority students who are disproportionately impacted by the decline in childhood arts education.


Researchers analyzed results from the 1982, 1992, and 2002 SPPA administrations using logistic regression to detect relationships between arts education and arts participation across administrations. The researchers defined arts education to include lessons in a variety of art forms in childhood or adulthood.

Limitations of the Research:

The report provides no information on the number of respondents or how they were selected for the survey, so sample size and selection bias may play a role in findings. Also, the survey did not ask respondents about the intensity of their arts education experiences or their subjective opinions of them.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Why did young adults’ arts education vary so erratically over the years? How have patterns of arts education contributed to the reported declines in benchmark arts activities? If arts education has a role in arts participation generally, does a decline in arts education, particularly a decline for young people, signal a continuing cycle of decline in arts participation?