A growing gap between national metrics of arts participation and the many, evolving ways in which people participate in artistic and aesthetic activities limits the degree to which such data can usefully inform policy decisions. The National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) is the primary source of arts participation data in the USA, but this instrument inadequately evaluates how members of minority and immigrant communities participate in the arts. As the USA nears a historic demographic shift to being a majority–minority nation – non-Hispanic White individuals will no longer be a demographic majority by about 2041 – obtaining more accurate measures of artistic activities that are meaningful to a more diverse population will be of increasing importance for public policy-making. To better understand the extent to which the SPPA's questions capture the range of artistic activities engaged in by members of immigrant communities, we cognitively tested a subset of the survey's questions with Chinese immigrants to the USA as a pilot case. We found that interviewees participate in a range of culturally specific and non-culturally specific arts activities that they did not report in response to the survey's questions. In this article, we draw upon these interviews to discuss the reasons underpinning the gap and suggest implications for updating research tools and future research. A better understanding of the gap between measured and actual “arts participation” will lead to improved measures and information to support artistic expression and arts more reflective of contemporary society.

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