Kinder Institute releases the first Houston Arts Survey

Study reveals up to 56 percent of Houstonians would choose the arts over sports

If given the choice of preserving either the arts or sports, 56 percent Houstonians would choose the arts, compared with 35 percent that would preserve sports, according to the 2012 Houston Arts Survey. The survey is a first-of-its-kind, dynamic look by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Harris County residents’ attitudes about and experiences with the area’s arts offerings and opportunities.

Stephen Klineberg, professor of sociology and co-director of the Kinder Institute, discusses the findings of the first Houston Arts Survey. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The survey was conducted between November 2011 and January 2012. A scientifically selected sample of 1,200 Harris County adults were asked about their free-time activities, their reasons for attending or not attending arts events, their personal involvement in creative activities, their support for arts education and the importance they attach to the arts for the city’s overall quality of life. The research documents the surprising degree to which Harris County residents participate in and support the arts.

Among the findings:

  • More than 40 percent said they had attended a live arts performance during the past year.
  • 63 percent had visited a museum, exhibit, library or art gallery.
  • 37 percent were currently personally involved in the arts and other creative activities.
  • Despite their support for the arts over sports, when Houstonians were asked to name their favorite free-time activity, playing or attending sports was the most popular response, with 17 percent, followed by watching TV or videos (12 percent), reading (11 percent), and social activities with family and friends (11 percent); 10 percent mentioned the arts.
  • 88 percent strongly or somewhat agree that public schools should put more emphasis on arts and music.
  • 65 percent disagreed with the suggestion that “arts education for children is much less important than English, history or math.”
  • More than half said they would be willing to pay higher property taxes to support arts education in their school district.
  • 26 percent of Houstonians had donated money to the arts.

“The survey participants express broad-based support for investments that will enhance the visibility and quality of the arts in this region, even if it means an increase in taxes,” said Stephen Klineberg, professor of sociology and co-director of the Kinder Institute. “The respondents are clear in their belief that the arts are important to Houston, that their availability and excellence are critical to the area’s quality of life and that arts instruction should be a part of every child’s education.”

The study found that Houstonians are more likely than Americans in general to attend live arts performances, and that the most important attendance predictors are education, household income and exposure to the arts in childhood. Ethnic background makes no difference at all in attendance rates: African-Americans, Latinos and Asians are just as likely as Anglos to report that they attended a live performance in the arts during the preceding 12 months.

“The usual suspects – mainly costs, traffic, safety and no time – were among the reasons respondents do not attend arts performances,” Klineberg said. “But none of these were perceived to be major barriers by more than a third of area residents.”

More than one-third of all Harris County adults said they were actively participating in the arts and other creative activities like performing, painting, writing or filmmaking. Sixty percent of the respondents said they were involved in the arts as children, with 37 percent saying that their childhood involvement lasted more than two years.

“The survey confirms that early exposure to the arts is a major predictor of later participation and support for the arts,” he said. “We know that this kind of education contributes importantly not only to a lifelong interest in the arts, but also to strengthening children’s overall cognitive development and to improving educational outcomes in general.”

Americans today are far more likely to access the arts at home through the media than at live performances, but the respondents indicate that viewing or listening to the arts at home is more likely to increase than to decrease their interest in attending live arts performances. The study affirms that the arts in Houston constitute an economic powerhouse, beyond their entertainment value, as a critical component in contributing to the region’s prosperity. The arts foster a larger sense of community and greatly improve the region’s quality of life, while also helping to bridge the growing diversity of area residents’ ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

“If Houston is to succeed in the 21st century, it will need to nurture a far more educated work force, improve its overall quality of life and capitalize on its burgeoning ethnic and cultural diversity,” Klineberg said. “The survey findings bode well for the future of our region.”.

The study was funded by Houston Endowment Inc. and aided by an advisory panel of leading national and local arts experts.

For more information about the Houston Arts Survey, visit For more information about the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, visit


About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.