Americans have less leisure time to give to the arts, resulting in a decline in attendance for some cultural activities although there has been a steady increase in financial support of the arts.

This is the finding of a new national arts survey conducted in 1987 by the National Reserach Center of the Arts, an affiliate of the Louis Harris polling organization. The survey was based on a random telephone survey among a cross-section of 1,505 adults nationwide age l8 and over.The survey showed that leisure time has steadily declined in the past 15 years, dropping 8 percent since a previous Harris poll in 1984, while the work week has increased from 40.6 hours in 1973 to 46.8 hours in 1987. It said this was mainly due to employment by both spouses in a family and the desire of women to work, allowing for less time free from work and personal tasks.

"This crunch of leisure time has forced most people to reorder their priorities," Harris said. "In the reshuffling of how Americans spend the hours left after juggling work and family reponsibilities, the arts are holding their own in a smaller leisure time market."

Harris noted that live arts performances had suffered the most from the decline in leisure time, while museum attendance increased 24 percent since l984, movie going, 9 percent, and classical record buying, 2 percent. Attendance at opera and musical theater is down 38 percent, pop and classical concerts 36 percent, theater 25 percent and dance 14 percent.

Key reasons given by those surveyed for not attending live performances more often were high ticket prices, 60 percent, lack of time, 59 percent, and lack of performances, 57 percent. Some 46 percent of those surveyed said they would go to more performances of plays and musicals if there were more opportunities to do so where they live.

Levels in personal participation in the arts also were affected by less leisure time. Painting, drawing, sculpting, ceramics and needlecraft are down between 1 and 4 percent, according to the survey, but photography and ballet-modern dance have shown strong growth. Since 1975, photography has increased from 19 percent to 51 percent paticipation and dance has increased from 3 percent to 23 percent.

One of the most dramatic potential gains in arts participation has been the huge increase in the ownership of VCRs, making it possible to enjoy video cassettes of performing arts performances in the home. Fifty-five percent of all households had a VCR in 1987, compared to only l7 percent in 1984.

When asked by Harris surveyers it they would rent or buy video cassettes of hit musical comedies and theater, 77 percent of the respondents said they would certainly or probably do so. For hit plays the response was 63 percent, pop concerts, 58 percent, and symphony concerts and top performing artists, 45 percent, ballet and modern dance, 39 percent, and current art exhibits, 38 percent.

Those questioned also were asked about arts in education and their responses point to a mandate for making arts education a part of the mainstream curriculum in public schools, Harris reported. Ninety-one percent said it was important for school-age children to be exposed to the arts, and 55 percent believe children have not had enough exposure to the arts.

Sixty-seven percent said they think children should have regular, full-credit courses in the arts, and 72 percent said the would be willing to pay more taxes to finance such courses. This willingness to pay was reflected in increased individual contributions to support the arts, the survey said.

Individual contributions are up from a 1984 median of $48.50 a year to $61.60 in 1987, according to the poll. Forty-four percent of those surveyed said they would give even more if asked more often, and 70 percent said they would pay an extra $10 in federal taxes to support the arts.

The survey was the fifth such cultural study made by Harris for Philip Morris Companies Inc. Stephanie French, director of the company's cultural and contributions programs, said she felt the arts face a serious challenge from steady decline in leisure time and the survey would "stimulate new ideas and approaches to ensure the growth and development of cultural institutions."