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What Makes an Arts Capital?: Quantifying a City’s Cultural Environment

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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Many communities claim to be an “arts capital”. What does this term really mean? Using data for 20 US metropolitan areas, this article proposes measures for the quantity, health and quality of a city’s not-for-profit arts and culture sector. Not surprisingly, data on the quantity and health (i.e., revenue sources) of arts organizations in American cities is more readily available than information on the quality of arts activity. The figures in the article comparing the number of non-profit arts organizations in the 20 cities, organizations’ revenues, and donations received by not-for-profits are fairly revealing. It would be interesting to examine equivalent Canadian data for these parameters. However, the authors’ attempt at measuring the quality of arts activity comes up well short. Arguing that professionalization may bring about quality, the authors propose as a measure of arts quality the number of arts service organization memberships and affiliations among arts organizations in each community.

There are many worthwhile statistics among the other measures that they propose for future research: arts education spending per capita; local government arts funding; local foundations’ support for the arts; leadership measures of quality (e.g., # of premieres); the level of amateur arts activity; arts coverage in local papers; arts broadcasting on local radio or TV; the number of artists; and arts attendance. The use of these indicators could bolster an argument for being an arts capital. In addition (as the authors recognize in their conclusion), the claim to being an arts capital would also be strengthened by a lively for-profit arts scene.

The authors note that “different cities excel in the arts in different ways”. It is doubtful that this article will restrict the number of cities claiming to be an arts capital, but the article does help start a discussion about what parameters cities (and others) might compile to examine these claims.

  • Readers of this edition of IJAM may also be interested in the article by John Hobday, the incoming Director of the Canada Council, regarding the “creative consolidation” that he believes is required in the Canadian arts sector.
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