(This is a bite-sized version of the much longer piece Arts Policy Library: Culture and Community Revitalization.)

The Social Impact of the Arts Project, based at the University of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1994 with the intent of studying the connection between the arts and community life. Over time, SIAP has established mechanisms to help us measure how the arts benefit the areas they inhabit. Culture and Community Revitalization is the result of two years of research done between 2006 and 2008 and consists of summary materials, a literature review, three policy briefs, and a community investment prospectus. The Rockefeller Foundation, which commissioned Culture and Community Revitalization, asked SIAP to partner with The Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, and find ways to “merge cultural data with other types of information on urban revitalization.” Despite some promising findings from the research overview, Stern and Seifert end on a pessimistic note, cautioning that more research is needed before policy decisions can be based off of SIAP’s linkage of cultural engagement to community revitalization.

The literature review covers a vast array of research on the relationship between the creative sector, economics and social benefits, ultimately determining that while most research explores the connection between culture and economic gains, more work needs to be done better understand the less-quantifiable social impacts. The policy briefs make the case for local policymakers to place more of an emphasis on the arts as a way to unlock the human capital in urban areas. Finally, the community investment prospectus provide practical recommendations and case studies that demonstrate different approaches to investing in cultural clusters.

The main strength of the report is its innovative approach to quantifying the ways arts and culture contribute to community revitalization. One of the main highlights of the Culture and Community Revitalization project is a methodology called the Cultural Asset Index. Stern and Seifert were able to build upon The Reinvestment Fund’s Market Value Analysis methodology to demonstrate that a concentration of cultural assets can be connected to a rise in real estate value. Conversely, the study fails to fully grapple with the potential downsides of neighborhood cultural investment strategies, particularly when it comes to issues around gentrification and displacement. Stern and Seifert’s research leads them to conclude that the benefits of creative clusters are not only about economics but also creating and strengthening social bonds across different types of networks.

Stern and Seifert suggest that cities can encourage the development of “natural” cultural districts by attracting private investment; focusing on “quality of life investments” such as regular trash pick-ups, and more green space;  pursuing workforce development policies that help young people gain entry into the creative sector; and gathering more data and background information about how these cultural clusters work.

Stern and Seifert’s research has been applied in practice since the publication of Culture and Community Revitalization. Most notably, the national creative placemaking initiatives Our Town and ArtPlace have used SIAP’s work in varying degrees to shape their approach to arts funding.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Your criticism of our discussion of gentrification is fair. SIAP has been committed to leading with empirical finding, and our work in a slow real estate market like Philadelphia led us to conclude that arts-based displacement was not a significant issue in our city during the 1990s. Our recent work in Baltimore and Seattle (and the changing market in Philadelphia) have led us to reexamine those conclusions and we’ll be posting some new work on the question in the coming year.