Arts Data Profile #4 (January 2015) – Why Don’t They Come? Characteristics of Interested Non-Attendees of the Arts

Title of Dataset

General Social Survey (GSS), public use files, 2012

Survey Method and Frequency

The GSS is a biennial survey. Data featured in this profile were collected in 2012, from respondents who first entered the survey in 2008 or 2010.

Target Population

English- and Spanish-speaking, noninstitutionalized residents of the United States, ages 18 and older.

Geographic Coverage

United States. The GSS sampling approach surveys randomly selected households in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, as well as geographic “clusters” of households in randomly selected Census block groups.


Conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, with core funding provided by the National Science Foundation.

Research Topics

Motivations and barriers in arts attendance

Notable Features

  • New arts attendance, motivations, and barriers variables collected in 2012
  • Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics for respondent, respondent’s parents, and household members
  • Behavioral and attitudinal variables including views on sociopolitical issues, values, and government spending
  • Detailed racial information and Hispanic ethnicity by national origin

Overview of Findings

Most analyses of arts participation focus on demographics and behaviors of arts attendees versus non-attendees. The 2012 GSS provides a unique perspective on attendees’ motivations for attendance, and related attitudes and values they hold. It also asks non-attendees whether there was an exhibit or performance they were interested in attending, and if so, what barriers they experienced.

About 28 percent of non-attendees express interest in attending art exhibits and/or live music, theater, or dance performances, and the reasons they express for non-attendance correlate with parenthood, race and geography, and healthy aging.

Why is the GSS Conducted?

For 40 years, GSS time series and cross-sectional data have been used to answer a very wide variety of social sciences research questions, helping build our understanding of a wide range of sociopolitical and demographic issues. With literally thousands of variables, hundreds of which have been tracked for 20 years or more, the GSS allows researchers to track changes over time in US residents’ behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes on a variety of topics such as race and ethnic relations, religious beliefs and practices, and family life.

In addition to the core questions repeated in each survey year, the GSS also includes modules—sets of related questions—on a variety of supplemental subjects. For 2012, in addition to arts, supplemental modules collected data on:

  • knowledge of and attitudes towards science and technology;
  • religious identity, congregational membership, and scripture reading;
  • employment-related issues, including job referrals, occupational prestige, and workplace violence;
  • health insurance, health-related policies, and overall wellbeing.