June 1, 2012
by Elizabeth Holland, Joanna Woronkowicz, & Sunil Iyengar, Office of Research & Analysis
The cover of the 2008 SPPA Report. You can access the full report here.
Next month, the U.S. Census Bureau will interview roughly 36,000 Americans about their levels of engagement with the arts as part of the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). Since 1982, this NEA-designed survey has culled such data from a nationally representative sample of adults (ages 18 and older). For the survey, Census interviewers ask people about their participation in a wide range of arts activities, including performing arts and film attendance, art museum-going, literary reading, and visits to historic sites, parks, or neighborhoods for their architectural or design value. Historically, the survey has also included questions about personal creation and performance of art, and arts participation via electronic media, including the Internet. But with five surveys conducted over nearly three decades, it seemed time to revisit the way we ask about the arts in America.
With fieldwork for the 2012 SPPA slated to begin in July, the public can expect to see early results reported in winter of 2012 or early spring of 2013. So, to ready you for the onset of “SPPA 2012,” we thought it would be a good idea to preview some of the changes we’ve made to this year’s survey.
But first, a refresher on how it has traditionally been structured.
The SPPA consists of a “core” set of questions that all survey-takers are asked. It also contains a series of “modules” on additional topics (i.e., music-listening preferences, participation via Internet and other media, participation in various leisure pursuits, and arts educational activities). Adults are randomly selected to answer particular modules.
In previous versions of the SPPA, we’ve tried to address limitations of time and space—as in questionnaire space. With only ten minutes worth of questions at our disposal, we’ve had to make hard choices about what to ask and what to omit. Despite this trade-off, we’ve attempted throughout the years to capture emerging art forms and new modes of participation. In 2008, to address changes in U.S. demographics, we added a question about attendance at live performances of Latin, Spanish, or salsa music. Nevertheless, the remaining core questions about live music attendance were still confined to jazz, classical music, and opera.
In preparation for the 2012 survey, we sought advice from multiple stakeholders, both within and outside the NEA. In 2010, we held a planning meeting where over 20 research methodologists, arts managers, and others gave their opinions on which elements of the survey were most important to retain, and where they saw opportunities for improvement.
In addition to improving our ability to measure participation in emerging art forms and modes, we’ve tried to address a number of other limitations with the SPPA. Below are some of the challenges we encountered, and how we decided to tackle them.