Humanities Indicators
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Art Museum Attendance
(Updated August 2019)

Art museums provide a tangible connection between the humanities and Americans’ lives, but the rate of art museum visitation among adults has declined since the early 2000s, according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. With respect to younger Americans, data collected as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate that most early adolescents had not visited an art museum or exhibit (either with their class or on their own) in the previous year, and their rate of visitation did not change from 2008 to 2016.

Findings and Trends

  • In 2017, 24% of the U.S. adult population had visited a museum or art gallery in the previous year (Indicator V-14a), an increase of almost three percentage points from the nadir in 2012. Even with that increase, however, the level remains below the attendance rates reported in the 1992 and 2002 surveys.
  • From 1982 to 2012, the largest declines in museum visitation rates occurred among younger Americans (ages 18 to 44), where the rates fell more than 17%. From 2012 to 2017, those same age cohorts had the largest increases (15% or greater). As a result, museum visitation rates for younger Americans were back in the vicinity of their 1982 levels in 2017.
  • The visitation rate of older Americans (ages 65 and above) has risen substantially over the 35-year time period examined here. In 1982, less than 15% of Americans ages 65 to 74 had visited an art museum, and less than 9% of those ages 75 and older. As of 2017, 24% of those ages 65 to 74, and 17% of those 75 and older, had visited an art museum in the previous year.[1]
  • The trends described above have resulted in a flattening out of differences among age groups when compared to the art museum visitation rates observed over the 1982–2002 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 shrank to seven percentage points—and to approximately 1.3 percentage points among the five age groups in the 25–74-year-old range. Though these gaps grew somewhat in 2017, they were still substantially smaller than those found during the 1982–2002 period.
  • 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).[2]
  • 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, 1982–2017
Source: National Endowment for the Arts, Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Data analyzed and presented by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Humanities Indicators (www.humanitiesindicators.org).
Related Indicators
../cmsData/xls/V-14a.xls../cmsData/ppt/V-14a.ppt../cmsData/pdf/V-14a.pdf
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] These increases coincided with efforts by museums to bring their facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but there is no proven causal relationship between the two phenomena. See Beth Bienvenu, “Museums and the Americans with Disabilities Act at 25: Progress and Looking Ahead,” NEA Arts Works Blog, October 15, 1985, https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2015/museums-and-americans-disabilities-act-25-progress-and-looking-ahead.
[2] p < .05 (This significance level was used for all of the tests performed as part of this analysis.)