Millions of Americans enjoy arts performances. That was evident from the number of performing arts centers built in the last decade, the boom in theater companies and the alarm when a symphony or dance group encounters financial distress.

But new data from the researchers at the National Endowment for the Arts dug a little deeper into those habits. Primarily, a good number of the 1.5 million Americans who go to an arts performances on an given day bring someone along. Less than 7 percent go alone — 41 percent have a companion and 54 percent bring a family member. They usually spend 2.7 hours at the event.

Crowds, as usual, at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

“Time and Money: Using Federal Data to Measure the Value of Performing Arts Activities,” was produced by the NEA using data from the U.S Economic Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS produces an American Time Use Survey, which provided many of the patterns.

“The performing arts is the most social activity, with so many people bringing a friend along,” said Sunil Iyengar, the director of NEA’s Office of Research & Analysis. “Nearly 35 percent of people attended arts events at schools, outdoors and churches. “

The dollars spent, the report found, remained lower than money spent on sports events. Americans spent $14.5 billion on performing arts admissions, compared to $20.7 billion on sports events, according to the NEA. And statistics from the BEA showed interesting spending patterns with $3.9 billion spent on photography equipment; $5.6 billion on musical instruments and $33.8 billion on non-school books. And, proving that almost everyone is now a photographer and disc jockey, consumers spent $107 billion on video and audio equipment in 2009.

Admission fees accounted for 35 percent of the income for the not-for-profit performing arts groups, underscoring the importance of private donations and public funding.

For the first time the arts endowment analyzed the time spent, even down to the time of day or night some activities happened. More people go to performing arts on weekends and holidays. More people go to museums on their lunch hour, the study found.

But night time is the right time. By 7 p.m., the percentage of people attending the performing arts reaches 56 percent, the report said. And writers spike up their activities around 11 p.m. “We think of the dying day. But people who write are night owls,” said Iyengar.

The visits and spending are supporting a sizeable industry. Using numbers from a census report, the NEA described the performing arts industry as a robust one, using data collected in 2007 right before the economic downturn, with nearly 8, 840 organizations with 127, 648 paid workers, generating nearly $13.6 billion in annual revenues.

The report showed how tightly the nonprofit sector of the larger pool operates with $5.6 billion in revenue and $5.2 billion in expenses. Theater and opera companies are the biggest earners and spenders. In 2007 theaters, including dinner theaters and opera companies, employed the majority of the workers.

The report also found, outside of radio listening, 6 million individuals listen to or play music on any given day.