Humanities Indicators
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Art Museum Attendance
(Updated February 2016)

Art museums provide a tangible connection between the humanities and Americans’ lives, but the rate of art museum visitation has been declining since the early 2000s.

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-14)—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.
V-14: 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.
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