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This report introduces a definition of cultural vitality that includes the range of cultural activity people around the country find significant. We use this definition as a lens to clarify our understanding of data necessary, as well as the more limited data currently available, to document arts and culture in communities in a consistent, recurrent and reliable manner. We develop and recommend an initial set of arts and culture indicators derived from nationally available data, and compare selected metropolitan areas based on these measures. Policy and planning implications for use of the cultural vitality definition and related measures are discussed.
This monograph, part of a series presenting the work of the
Urban Institute’s Arts and Culture Indicators Project (ACIP),
discusses three major advances in our ongoing work. First, we
introduce a definition of cultural vitality that includes the range of
cultural assets and activity people around the country register as
Specifically, we define cultural vitality as evidence of creating,
disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a
dimension of everyday life in communities.
Second, we use this definition as a lens through which to clarify
our understanding of the data necessary, as well as the more
limited data currently available, to document adequately and
include arts and culture in more general quality of life indicators.
Third, we develop and recommend an initial set of arts and
culture indicators derived from nationally available data, and we
compare selected metropolitan statistical areas based on the
measures we have developed.
ACIP’s Definition of Cultural Vitality Captures the Wide
Range of Arts and Culture Activity Our Research Has Shown
ACIP’s first monograph, Culture Counts in Communities: A
Framework for Measurement (Jackson and Herranz 2002),
developed a measurement framework that delineates four
domains of inquiry to help capture cultural activity and its
role in communities. The first three of these—the presence
of opportunities to participate, participation in its multiple
dimensions, and support systems for cultural participation—are
appropriate for indicator measurement and make possible a more
comprehensive understanding of impacts of arts and culture (the
fourth domain). We build on our understanding of the first three
domains as we operationalize our cultural vitality concept and
determine measures that correspond with it.
Presence. ACIP fieldwork and other research finds that a wide
mix of sponsorship (nonprofit, commercial, public, informal),
size (large, medium, small), and type of organizations—including
presenters of professional artwork, artist-focused organizations,
and those that validate and make possible amateur as well as
professional arts practice—is essential to create the range of
participation reflected in our definition of cultural vitality. We
call special attention to what we term "pillar" organizations as
particularly significant in fostering diverse kinds of cultural activity
and participation. These are usually organizations that have been
active for a decade or more and combine some and often all of
the following characteristics: (a) involvement in the development of community-based cultural events, (b) relationships with local
artists as well as the large cultural venues concerned primarily
with the presentation of professional work, and (c) long-standing
connections with local parks, schools, community centers,
etc., that sponsor community arts and cultural activities. We
also found that formal and informal cultural districts—physical
concentrations of arts organizations and arts-related businesses
as well as professional artists and people who are involved in
making art recreationally—are important in helping to stimulate
and sustain various crucial aspects of cultural vitality.
Participation. ACIP fieldwork and other research concerned
with arts participation reveals that people participate in arts and
cultural activity in multiple ways—as practitioners, teachers,
students, critics, supporters, and consumers. Several types
of participation that are particularly important to sustaining
and increasing cultural vitality in a community surfaced in our
research. These include collective art making often found in
festivals and community celebrations, sustained amateur arts
practice, public validation and critical discussion of a range of
artistic and cultural practices (amateur to professional) in many
forms such as print and electronic media (including the web), and
arts education K–12 (kindergarten through high school), as well as
after-school arts programs.
Support. It is well known that public sector and foundation
support is crucial for arts and cultural activity. However, ACIP
has found that commercial sector support is also important for
cultural vitality and can be encouraged through public sector
incentives such as tax incentives and small business loans. Also
important is the integration of arts and culture into other public
policy priorities such as education and community development,
which can increase the potential support for cultural activity
and further contribute to a vibrant cultural scene. This can best
be achieved when a community has a network of strong arts
advocates, especially outside the formal cultural sector. We also
found that a high incidence of artists in one place is another
strong indicator of that location’s cultural vitality and provides
one measure or indicator of the level of support available for
important aspects of artistic endeavor.
Embracing ACIP’s Concept of Cultural Vitality Has a Variety
Our definition of cultural vitality has implications for people both
inside and outside the cultural field. On one hand, this definition
can be threatening to historically privileged and subsidized
forms of cultural participation because it expands the range of
stakeholders in the arts (broadly defined) to include people who are not arts "experts" or professionals. On the other hand, it is
attractive to many precisely because it is inclusive and potentially
engages a more diverse and powerful set of stakeholders in
making sure a community has what it needs to be culturally
vital. For example, it enables urban designers and planners to
give more consideration to ensuring that communities have
community/cultural centers, including facilities for the practice
of art, that make possible a wide range of arts engagement.
It encourages expansion of the cultural district concept to
include more opportunities for amateur as well as professional
arts engagement. It compels policymakers, funders, and
administrators to think more critically about to what aspect of a
community’s cultural vitality they are contributing. And it enables
community members to learn more about the range of cultural
activity in their communities and where arts-related investments
might best be made.
The Community Indicator Field Has Made Progress in
Widening Its Treatment of Arts and Culture Measurement
and Prospects for Continuing This Look Good
The past decade has seen a surge of efforts, in a wide range of
institutional settings (e.g., independent nonprofits, universities,
and governmental agencies), both here and abroad, to track a
comprehensive set of indicators in cities and communities. This
surge in indicator initiatives and related efforts to improve and
expand the issues they report on provide a window of opportunity
for the further integration of arts and culture into indicator
systems. In the United States, however, still relatively few of
these efforts include arts and culture as a separable component,
and those that do often continue to use the traditional focus on
the number of conventional cultural venues where people can
attend arts events, audience attendance, and organizational
budget information. However, there are more examples of the
integration of arts and culture into indicator systems than was the
case ten years ago and there are some strong examples of efforts
that do take a broader approach in their definition and also rely on
less traditional data sources to characterize the arts and culture in
their communities. We highlight these efforts in this report.
The international picture is more encouraging than that of the
United States in that arts and culture are typically included as
a specific component of many indicator systems. Still, for the
most part, the definitions used are typically no less conventional
than those used in the United States. However, here too, we see
evidence of more inclusive definitions and attempts to identify
arts and culture data that correspond with broader concepts than
was the case years ago.
In addition to our review of indicator initiatives, we also reviewed
three types of initiatives that resemble indicator system
development in important ways: city rankings, arts sector reports,
and creative economy reports. Of these, we found most evidence
of inclusiveness and alignment with aspects of our ACIP approach
in creative economy reports. The good news is that interest in the
notion of a creative economy is on the rise—growing at national,
state, and regional and local levels.
A Schema for Sorting Data for Indicators of Cultural Vitality
A major contribution of ACIP's recent work is a data
reconnaissance effort that goes outside the traditional arts/culture
box (extending the usual nonprofit lens to include commercial
and informal sectors) in searching for measures of cultural vitality.
This effort has involved intensive investigation of national data
sources (covering public, commercial, and nonprofit sectors
and including parks, education, and library data) as well as more
locally generated data (state, regional, county, city, community).
Another significant advance has been to categorize, in terms of
usability for arts and culture indicator development, the wide
array of actual and potential data sources we have identified. Our
schema specifies four "tiers":
- Tier one refers to quantitative data that is publicly
available, free or of minimal cost, collected at least
annually, able to be disaggregated geographically to the
Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) level or smaller, and
nationally comparable. Examples include data from U.S.
Census Bureau's County Business Patterns, the National
Center for Charitable Statistics, and the Bureau of Labor
- Tier two data are also quantitative, publicly available,
free or virtually free, annually recurrent, and able to
be disaggregated to at least the MSA level. However,
they are not nationally comparable. Examples include
administrative data about parades and festivals collected
by police and other city departments, selected annual
household surveys, and funding data collected in some
places by the local arts agency or a foundation.
- Tier three data are also quantitative but come from
sources that are either restricted to a single point in time
or sporadic (i.e., not necessarily regular or covering the
same material on each repetition).
- Tier four data refer to qualitative or pre-quantitative
documentation of phenomena of interest—often from
anthropological and ethnographic studies of arts and
culture in communities.
Data sources in tiers one and two are suitable for immediate
indicator development because they provide quantitative data
that are recurrent and, therefore, able to assess trends over
time. The advantage of tier one over tier two data is that tier
one data are nationally comparable, allowing comparison across
communities. The advantage of tier two over tier one is that it
typically provides more detailed data and often information about
smaller geographies. Data in tiers three and four are not suitable
for immediate construction of indicator measures, but are
nonetheless important. Tier three can provide examples of and
inform how relevant information might be collected or estimated
recurrently (and thus be suitable for indicator development). Tier
four can provide instructive contextual information that helps to
fill out often essential aspects of a community's cultural vitality
picture with strongly suggestive evidence of more nuanced
aspects of cultural vitality or facets of cultural vitality that do not
lend themselves easily to quantification. It can also help guide the
design of quantitative data collection.
Recommended Tier One Measures and Illustrative
Rankings of Cities
In chapter 5, we present our priorities for the kinds of phenomena
we think should be tracked as dimensions of cultural vitality. With
this in mind, we also recommend several nationally comparable
measures we have constructed from tier one data to provide
indications about some of the priorities we have identified. The
measures we have already developed—and our development
work is ongoing—expand the range of nationally comparable
cultural vitality measures far beyond anything we have seen
elsewhere. We use the measures in chapter 7 to provide
illustrative rankings of U.S. cities (Metropolitan Statistical Areas).
They provide evidence that the relative standing of a city’s
cultural vitality can change substantially depending on which
element of cultural vitality is being compared. This evidence, in
turn, argues strongly for including a wide range of measures in
any assessment, whether to monitor trends over time in a single
community or to make comparisons for a single point in time
across different communities.
A Few Cities Have Begun to Use Tier One and Tier Two
Measures as well as Information from Tiers Three and
Four to Describe Their Communities
Among ACIP’s collaborators, there are good examples of the use
of ACIP's recommended nationally comparable tier one indicator
measures, more locally generated tier two measures and, in
some cases, information from tiers three and four to characterize
arts and culture in their communities. These are evident in ACIP
collaborators' products, which include
- Seattle, Washington—Communities Count: Health
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Metropolitan Philadelphia
- Boston, Massachusetts—The Boston Indicators Project
This monograph represents significant strides in the development
of sustainable indicators of cultural vitality, inclusively defined.
Our definition of cultural vitality calls for a much more complex
concept of arts and cultural assets in communities and the
resources required to bring these to fruition, sustain, or expand
them. Our nationally comparable measures and, by extension, our
MSA rankings based on the cultural vitality concept are the first of
their kind in the United States. They demonstrate beyond doubt
that better and more consistently collected data on a wide range
of aspects of cultural vitality can substantially change our view
about the relative cultural vitality of a community—what it has to
offer and what it may lack.
Although barriers to fully capturing cultural vitality in communities
still exist to a degree, there is great room for optimism. The
surge of interest in creativity signaled by the increasing uses of
concepts such as "creative economy," "creative class" and "cool
cities" represents a window of opportunity for ACIP's indicator
approach. Facilitating access to cultural vitality data, and to
measures such as those ACIP is developing, will make it easier
for cultural vitality to be integrated into policy discussion and
decisionmaking on a broader scale.
Note: This report is available in its entirety in PDF Format.
Culture Counts in Communities: A Framework for Measurement. Maria Rosario Jackson and Joaquin Herranz. 2002.
Investing in Creativity: A Study of the Support Structure for U.S. Artists. Maria Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, Daniel Swenson, Joaquin Herranz, Kadija Ferryman, Caron Atlas, Eric Wallner, and Carole E. Rosenstein. 2003.
Rebuilding the Cultural Vitality of New Orleans. Maria Rosario Jackson. 2006.