Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators
This report from the (U.S.) Urban Institute attempts to “develop and recommend an initial set of arts and culture indicators derived from nationally available data” and to compare some American metropolitan areas based on the indicators.
The report defines cultural vitality as “evidence of creating, disseminating, validating and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities”. This definition “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”.
Three domains of inquiry help describe local cultural activity and its role in communities:
- the presence of opportunities for cultural participation;
- cultural participation in its multiple dimensions; and
- support systems for cultural participation.
Within the “presence” category, measures include a wide mix of funding sources, size and type of organizations (including organizations in different disciplines, amateur and professional organizations, as well as “pillar” organizations). The report argues that “formal and informal cultural districts … are important in helping to stimulate and sustain various crucial aspects of cultural vitality”.
With regard to participation, the report outlines measures of the many ways in which people participate in arts and cultural activity – “as practitioners, teachers, students, critics, supporters, and consumers”. These could include collective art making activities, amateur and professional practice, critical discussion, a range of cultural practices, different forms of participation (e.g., print vs. electronic), as well as arts education experiences in both formal and informal settings.
In terms of support, the report highlights the fact that public, foundation and commercial supports are all important for cultural vitality. In addition, public sector initiatives can encourage commercial contributions. Additional support could also be procured by integrating the arts and culture “into other public policy priorities such as education and community development”. Other support-related measures include “a network of strong arts advocates” and “a high incidence of artists in one place”.
Comparisons of American metropolitan areas are made according to seven indicators: arts establishments; employment in arts establishments; arts nonprofits; nonprofit community celebrations, festivals, fairs and parades; nonprofit arts expenses; nonprofit arts contributions; and artists’ jobs. San Francisco ranks first on three indicators: employment in arts establishments, arts nonprofits, and artists’ jobs. Washington, D.C. ranks first on two indicators: nonprofit arts expenses and nonprofit arts contributions. Los Angeles ranks first with regard to the number of arts establishments, while Columbus, Ohio ranks first in terms of nonprofit community celebrations, festivals, fairs and parades.
The authors conclude 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”. More specifically, a specific and critical focus on communities’ cultural vitality could inform local citizens about the range of cultural activity in their communities and where cultural investments could have the greatest impact.