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Set in Stone: Building America’s New Generation of Arts Facilities, 1994-2008

March 27, 201327 March 2013

Culture and tourism / Facilities / Social benefits

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This report examines all cultural building projects in the United States between 1994 and 2008 based on a number of research methods, including an examination of building permits for new construction, renovations, and additions to museums, theatres, and multi-use performing arts centres with an initial cost of at least $4 million, an in-depth investigation of 50 such projects, a sampling of other local cultural organizations that might also have been affected by the building projects, and case studies.

Overall, the researchers identified 725 cultural building projects started between 1994 and 2008, with a total cost of nearly $16 billion. One-half of the cultural building projects were multi-use performing arts centres, 39% were museums, and 11% were theatre-only projects.

During the timeframe of the study, “building in the arts grew faster than or on par with building in other sectors” such as health and education. The researchers identified a cultural “building boom” in the U.S. between 1998 and 2001. Cities with highly-educated, relatively affluent, and rising populations (as well as cities with higher numbers of artists) tended to have more cultural facilities than other cities. Given the growth in cultural facilities, the researchers question whether the supply of cultural facilities has exceeded demand.

The researchers pinpoint some key factors that influence the feasibility and success of cultural building projects, including:

  • A project motivation that includes both the organization’s mission and the need for a new or renovated space.
  • “Clear, consistent, and sustained” leadership.
  • “Efficient project timelines”.
  • Flexible and realistic revenue projections and effective control of expenses. (The researchers note that 80% of the building projects ran over budget.)

The case studies for the project highlight the need to find equilibrium between a range of managerial challenges that arise when undertaking building projects:

  • “The way that a new facility fits into and enhances the ability to deliver on mission.
  • The organization’s actual capacity (additional staff, technical support, marketing expertise) to operate effectively in an enhanced and expanded space.
  • Engaging the surrounding community in ways that enhance the longer term health of the organization and its infrastructure.
  • Identifying and strengthening funding streams for the near and longer term.”

The research found no clear pattern of positive or negative impacts of the cultural building projects on the broader community and “limited evidence that cultural building has significant effects on the overall [local] changes in the number of arts organizations, their employment, or payrolls”.

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