(For the unabridged edition of this analysis, please read Arts Policy Library: The Artistic Dividend.)

Ann Markusen and David King’s 2003 paper “The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development” aims to reveal what economists typically miss when they measure the impact of the arts sector on regional economies.

Summary

Approach and Methodology

“The Artistic Dividend” presents the arts’ contribution to a regional economy through an occupational lens. Markusen and King conducted two focus groups with arts opinion-makers and interviewed 22 artists in the Twin Cities. Having determined using Census data that artists are differently distributed in different regions, the authors used the data from their interviews to probe what causes artists’ regional preferences.

Components of the Artistic Dividend

Markusen and King hypothesize that regional economies get an “artistic dividend” from a high artist population because artists:

  • improve the design, production, and marketing of products and services in non-arts businesses when they do contract work for them, and by being active consumers
  • help firms recruit employees by contributing to the quality of life in a region
  • export their work out of their region
  • purchase local supplies and services.

Artists’ Regional Preferences and How They Might Be Nurtured

“The Artistic Dividend” uses US Census data to show that artists concentrate in some regions more than others. Based on their interviews, Markusen and King posit that a region could increase its artistic dividend by supporting these factors:

  • opportunities for education
  • formal and informal mutual support networks among artists
  • opportunities to connect their work to other industries
  • artist live/work spaces
  • arts philanthropy that supports individuals as well as institutions
  • regional amenities such as affordability, good neighborhoods, and cultural life

Analysis

Overall, “The Artistic Dividend” makes an intriguing argument, but its conclusions are preliminary because of its modest scope and reliance on limited empirical evidence. One of the major issues with “The Artistic Dividend” is that it makes broadly generalizing recommendations based on its small sample size for data (22 interviewees, only four of whom are ever directly cited). It also assumes that artists’ economic actions have a substantial economic effect, but uses the presence of a concentration of artists in a region as a stand-in for the presence of the effect, without attempting to measure it. One way to test this effect would have been to interview non-arts business owners in the region as well as artists; another would have been to compare the artist population data with regional prosperity, as Richard Florida did. By claiming that they cannot measure the artistic dividend even though it is central to their arguments and recommendations, Markusen and King leave themselves open to the speculation that the artistic dividend is not large enough to justify their recommendation that regions invest in encouraging it.

The Artistic Dividend Revisited

Markusen’s 2004 paper “The Artistic Dividend Revisited,” co-authored with Greg Schrock and Martina Cameron, updates the census-based analysis of artists’ regional preferences from “The Artistic Dividend.” This version is deeper and more thorough on the regional data, but does not attempt to address the size or causes of the dividend.

Implications

“The Artistic Dividend” provides a good frame for the discussion of artists’ economic contributions, but because of its limitations in scope, it is inconclusive – the biggest implication is that more research is needed to test the following ideas:

  • How and how much artists contribute to an economy through their contract work at non-arts firms and their entrepreneurship, and whether there is room for growth.
  • The reasons artists choose particular cities.
  • Similar research on sub-regional, neighborhood, and rural economies.
  • Trade-offs between funding large institutions and funding on the artist level.

Since “The Artistic Dividend” was written before the 2008 recession, fundamentals such as affordable health care may now be more important to artist populations than regional amenities such as parks. Still, as many artists have focused more on freelancing and found new avenues of income in the last several years, looking at artists’ economic participation through an occupational lens remains relevant.