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Art and Culture in Communities: A Framework for Measurement

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Document date: November 01, 2003
Released online: November 01, 2003

Policy Brief No. 1 of the Culture, Creativity and Communities Program

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Art and Culture in Communities

Neighborhoods and metropolitan regions across the country are seeking innovative strategies to address the promises, problems, and uneven prosperity associated with an increasingly technological economy combined with far-reaching demographic shifts. American identity has been enriched by the maturing of diverse racial and ethnic groups and by the arrival of new immigrants. But it has been complicated by the same processes. Furthermore, federal and state responses to urban issues continue devolving to the local level at the very moment when our ability to create social capital — the bonds that enable collective action — is being called into question.

In this context, more than ever, a wide range of stakeholders including residents, community and business leaders, and policymakers working to improve the quality of life in America's neighborhoods need appropriate, consistently and reliably collected information to do their best work. Local leaders and researchers have made great strides in collecting and using data about various issues such as employment, health, housing, and land use as part of neighborhood indicator initiatives. With few exceptions, however, these efforts have ignored the presence and roles of arts, culture, and creativity — essential factors in community building processes.1

In working to help fill this gap, ACIP has had to confront basic questions about arts, culture, and creativity at the local level (see box). This brief summarizes the research and measurement framework we have developed to help answer such questions.

The field work and document review2 on which this framework is based, along with our emerging conclusions, has been shared in workshops with ACIP affiliates3 and also vetted in many professional conferences and meetings in various fields of research and policy. This process of idea development, debate, and application has helped us refine our initial thoughts about the theories, language, and methods needed to address the research and data deficiencies we have identified.

Questions Guiding Development of the ACIP Framework

  • How are arts, culture, and creativity defined, presented, and valued at the neighborhood level?
  • What should be measured and why?
  • What neighborhood-level data are already available for this purpose?
  • What kinds of information need to be collected?

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Notes

1. The definition of neighborhood indicators, as developed by Thomas Kingsley ("Democratizing Information," Washington DC, The Urban Institute, 1996), is as follows: recurrently updated measures that allow one to describe societal conditions, track societal trends, and assess desired outcomes over time at the neighborhood level.

2. Data gathering included in-person interviews and focus group discussions with arts and community building professionals as well as community residents in nine cities, document review and telephone interviews with staff from arts and arts-related institutions, and on-site examination of community building initiatives at selected sites around the country.

3. ACIP works with local affiliates in seven places: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia, Providence, and Washington DC. ACIP and affiliates work on a variety of projects, with foci ranging from city-wide to neighborhood-specific levels. Our aim with the affiliate work is to create tools and methods that can be adopted or adapted by other practitioners in the community arts and community building related fields.

About this Policy Brief

This brief is a product of the Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project (ACIP) — the flagship initiative of the Urban Institute's Culture, Creativity, and Communities (CCC) program. Launched in 1996 with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, ACIP seeks to integrate arts and culture-related measures into community quality-of-life indicator systems. ACIP is built on the premise that inclusion of arts, culture, and creativity is meaningful when it reflects the values and interests of a wide range of community stakeholders. This is the context in which the connection of arts, culture, and creativity to community building processes and other community dynamics can be fully understood.

The authors of this brief would like to thank the Rockefeller Foundation for support of this work. We are indebted to the many community building professionals, arts administrators, artists, community residents and our local ACIP affiliates for their contributions. Also, we would like to thank Felicity Skidmore for her editorial assistance.



Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Race/Ethnicity/Gender


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