Art Works Blog

Got a Minute?

March 16, 2010
Washington, DC

Ten questions in ten minutes. That's all there is to the U.S. Census survey that started hitting mailboxes this week. (Yes, "real" mailboxes--the 2010 Census will not occur online.) It's one of the briefest since 1790, when the first federal Census began. The answers to this innocuous list of queries will help the U.S. government apportion seats in the House and determine how to allocate more than $400 billion in annual spending.

Less known is the variety of ways in which the Census results can shape public perceptions about American culture. For arts and cultural researchers, such as those of us who work in the NEA's Office of Research and Analysis, the 2010 Census will establish an accurate framework for subsequent surveys by the NEA about how Americans participate in the arts. These surveys help communicate to policy-makers, arts administrators, journalists, and the general public the depth of arts engagement in the United States and its relationship to a host of social, economic, and geographic factors. Equally important, other researchers (public and private) use Census data to conduct their own surveys or create their own analyses. Without answers to such vital questions as the number, gender, location, and race/ethnicity of Americans from all backgrounds, our best attempts at research will flounder, and the arts might never be counted as an integral component of American lives and communities.

Thanks to data from the previous Census, we've been able to figure out everything from the number of self-identified artists in the U.S. as of 2008 (nearly 2,000,000) to the state with the fifth highest number of artists (Colorado) to the state with the highest percentage of architects (Massachusetts). Visit the Census 2010 website to learn more, and keep an eye on your mailbox for your chance to participate.

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