The article When the Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is a huge boon (thank you La Dawna Wert) in my research in music and art engagement. The NEA sponsored the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS), which is known as “the most frequently analyzed source of information in the social sciences, second only to U.S. Census data,” (National Endowment for the Arts, 2015, p.5) The data from this study is the most thorough, reliable, and accurate information I have found to date.

cover page

The most fascinating piece about the GSS 2012 study is that non-attendees were accounted for. This has been a major gap in other articles I have critiqued. It seems that gathering data from attendees seems easy enough, but the GSS 2012 sought out the interested non-attendees to get a better understanding of why people are not participating. In 2012, visual art exhibit and performance attendees included 126 million adults and 21 million interested adults that did not attend. Please see the summary of findings and exact percentages listed below. (All the images and graphs in this critique have been taken directly from When the Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance.)

summary of findings

summary graph

The GSS 2012 uncovered interesting information around the “why” for each group: attendees and interested non-attendees. The attendees’ motivations and interested non-attendees’ barriers are listed in Table II-1 and II-2 below.



It appears that not finding anyone to attend an artistic event with was a barrier, but it was not the number one reason to miss an event. However, socializing with family and friends was the number one motivation to attend an art exhibit or performance. Lack of time was the number one reason to not attend, followed by costs, difficulty getting there, not attending alone, not liking the event location, and simply lack of interest in the given event. I appreciated that the GSS 2012 continued to delve deeper into the barriers of attendance by further distinguishing between the reasons for not attending visual art exhibits versus performance events. The exact percentages are listed below in Figure II-5.

visual or performance graph

In addition to showing differences in barriers between visual arts and performances, it appeared that trends emerged based upon self identified social classes, which tie back into education and annual earnings. I found Figure III-3 below to be interesting because it accounted for a group not mentioned before: “other” non-attendees. These are the people that fill in the gaps and paint a picture for 100% of each class: lower, working, middle, and upper.

other non-attendees graph

It seems that class and education directly correlate to attendance of the arts. Beyond these interesting class findings, there are more overall key findings listed below.

Key Findings

In my research, I want to know if musical engagement at a spiritual center can be enhanced by these GSS 2012 key findings. I plan to include the following topics in my surveys:

Baseline Information

  • Self-Identified Class

Do Motivations include any or all of the following:

  • Socializing
  • Desire to learn new things

Do the barriers include any or all of the following:

  • Lack of time
  • Difficulty getting to the location
  • High cost
  • No one to go with

Exploring why people behave certain ways around the arts has been incredibly helpful. One of my previous article critiques on The Role of Popular Music in the Construction of Alternative Spiritual Identities and Ideologies stressed that more needed to be known about “how” people experienced spirituality through music, while When the Going Gets Tough: Barriers and Motivations Affecting Arts Attendance explores the “why” people attend the arts. Finding the GSS 2012 has filled a huge gap in my literature review and I can see it starting to refine my research plan. I also see how GSS 2012 shines light on my team’s broader research question around art engagement in any setting. The extensive data creates a good baseline.


National Endowment for the Arts (2015). When going gets tough: Barriers and motivations  effecting arts attendance. Research Report #59. Retrieved from: