These initial research reports were completed during summer 2014 by members of the Createquity editorial team. They are intended to give a sense of our (very) preliminary thoughts on the topic in question. We welcome discussion and debate. – IDM

  • A bit about our process

We spent a total of about 12-14 hours on research over the last two weeks, primarily casting a broad net in search and then entering sources and taking stock of the whole by re-reading abstracts to get a preliminary feel for the literature.

We began working independently, though I ended up focusing on the first hypothesis (common opportunities and poor adults) while Jackie focused on the third (busy people and the arts). (Neither of us turned up a lot on the second, about scarce opportunities for poor adults, that wasn’t about arts education.) We did keyword searches in EBSCO, Google Scholar, and JSTOR. I personally found it to be especially effective to use Google Scholar to find similar articles to ones I found promising or by authors whose work seemed relevant. The bibliographies of some of the more recent studies were also good at pointing us toward the most influential sources.

We compiled our sources in a Google Sheet (which I’ve shared with the full group), including basic bibliographic information and an abstract or introduction. Where possible, we saved full-text PDFs to a shared DropBox folder. I began working with Papers but found that it didn’t recognize a lot of the PDFs I tried to import. It recognizes links to JSTOR, EBSCO, Springer, and the like, but without full-text access, this feature hasn’t been especially useful. I abandoned Papers for the time being to focus on the research. So far, in this compile-as-much-relevant-research-as-possible stage, I’ve found Google Sheets and Dropbox to work reasonably well.

We have not yet figured out how to get full-text versions of restricted articles through JSTOR. Jackie went to her library and used the search engine, but couldn’t access her e-mail to send PDFs (though she could e-mail citations through JSTOR itself). I will to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch but could not use JSTOR from my laptop. The computer lab was full, so I haven’t yet learned whether I can e-mail PDFs to myself from the computers that have JSTOR access. We’re curious whether others have cracked this, especially since we’ve found several journals with lots of relevant articles that we can’t read (e.g., the Journal of Cultural Economics, Poetics, and Social Research).


  • Determine the extent to which research exists addressing the topic area in general.
  • Determine the extent to which research exists addressing the specific hypotheses that we developed.

John hypothesized at the retreat that, for a given topic, we’d likely find either very little research or an entire world of it. As it turns out, Art and Poverty is a planet of considerable size, with many angles and lots of writing. Some of it falls outside what we take to be the scope of this area (e.g., work on using art to engage the poor through social work; on using art to drive economic growth or end poverty either through related economic benefits or through arts as a medium for advocacy; and on disparities in arts education and the results for poor adults – though it’s obvious that, if we decided to pursue this topic, that will be highly relevant).

I’d say we’re still getting our heads around the rest, identifying possible topics where we haven’t found many sources to do more targeted searches. So far, much of the literature we found addresses the following topics, organized by hypothesis:

  1. Poor and economically insecure adults are significantly less likely to have access to “common” opportunities to participate in the arts as producers or consumers for a variety of reasons.

There is a lot of writing on who participates in or consumes the arts, to the point that a few summaries or lit reviews exist on the topic. Some of this describes characteristics of those who do, including socioeconomic factors like income, class or family background, and education; some approaches the question by examining barriers to participation (e.g., cost, awareness), often through self-reporting via surveys. The NEA’s SPPA is the major data source for the US, although much of the work is about the UK or Europe, at local, national, or even international levels. We aren’t yet sure whether a clear picture emerges of a sharp economic divide in cultural participation: it undoubtedly varies for formal arts vs informal arts and by type of art (there are some studies comparing consumption of “high” and “low” music and film), and education may be the real determinant, rather than income, to which it is obviously related. I suspect the data isn’t airtight, but there seem to be a lot of individual datapoints suggesting that, at least, the poor underparticipate in formal arts activities outside the home. We aren’t yet sure how good any of this literature is. (Jackie pointed out that WolfBrown has done some work on the informal arts, so John, if you have tips for digging into that, let us know!)

Most of the arts-specific studies seem to approach the question from the point of view of arts organizations: they either look at audience data or separate the general population by level of consumption of the arts (e.g., often, sometimes, never) and see how these groups are different from one another. The search has led us to speculate about other kinds of research that might exist, searching for which is our next step. This includes answers to questions like:

  • What are poor people’s attitudes toward the arts?
  • What are poor people’s awareness about arts opportunities and prices?
  • How do cultural opportunities map against income level by neighborhood?
  • What is the total cost of participating in common arts opportunities (including indirect costs like transportation)?
  • This could be a red herring, but the idea of “social exclusion” came up in one or two sources from around 2000. I don’t know if the idea caught on, but it was defined as ‘a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown.’ Might be worth looking into futher.
  1. Poor and economically insecure adults are significantly less likely to have access to “scarce” opportunities to participate in the arts as producers for a variety of reasons

Again, most of the work here is about arts education. We’ve also started pulling articles on artists’ income, which could reveal a strong circumstantial argument that becoming an artist virtually requires the kind of resources that most poor people do not have access to – especially if we can also find research on the cost of producing art, which is part of our hypothesis.

  1. Many people who would benefit from common or scarce opportunities to participate in the arts do not take advantage of them due to pressure from social and/or professional environments that treat participation in the arts as an unwelcome distraction from economically productive activities.

From Jackie: I was actually surprised at the amount of literature out there on leisure time use. A lot of it seems to stem from Thorstein Veblen’s work on the leisure class (published in 1899!), and getting revised later in the 60’s and onward as it became clear that wealthy people were no longer the “leisure class,” but rather, the “harried leisure class.” It seems like the discussion gets pretty complicated from there, with a few different viewpoints, but cellphone/smartphone technology seems to have made the problem worse? I definitely don’t feel like I have a great handle on this body of knowledge yet, and there was very little specific to the arts that I could find. It does seem like we can make some strong inferences regarding the arts, though, since most people participate in their leisure time. I also found a summary of Baumol’s “cost disease” as it relates to the performing arts in this piece, which seems somewhat tangential, but definitely interesting as we consider the time resources necessary for arts participation.

A lot of what we’ve found so far is about perceived time-stress, which is useful as general context. We have found some material on leisure time broadly, which is a start, but only a couple of sources linked directly to the arts. We want to pursue this further by following the bibliographies of these. We also want to dig into sources like the American Heritage Time Use study to understand how the arts fit into how Americans spend their time.


  • Identify any hypotheses that are missing from the list but should be added in light of what you’ve found in the research.

So far, we haven’t added hypotheses. Each of the current hypotheses is pretty Brobdingnagian, so we’re more likely to break them down or narrow their focus, though this will require actually reading many of the studies we’ve compiled. (But see the note about hypothesis three in the next section.)


  • If possible, arrive at a broad understanding of where there are areas of consensus and debate in the research that does exist. (Looking for just a general impression here, not an in-depth review of particular studies.)
  • If possible, arrive at an initial impression regarding the extent to which each hypothesis is supported by the research that does exist. Again if possible, assign a low/medium/high level of confidence to this impression. You can divide the hypotheses into subcomponents if that’s useful.
  1. Poor-and-common: There seems to be lots of evidence that the poor are not consuming (formal) arts as much as richer people, although we’ll need to read more deeply to make sure this actually supports our more precise hypothesis. I’d give this one a preliminary high, though.
  2. Poor-and-scarce: We haven’t compiled much research on the poor-and-scarce hypothesis.
  3. Busy-and-uncultured: There seems to be support for the idea that leisure time has decreased in quantity and quality, and that this is bad for arts consumption (or at least shifts such consumption away from formal arts outside the browser). We actually framed the hypothesis around cultural pressure at work or in society, though – I’d say we don’t yet know whether that’s supported by research. If we adjust that to something like, “Many people who would benefit from common or scarce opportunities … do not take advantage of them due to increasing time-stress and fragmentation of leisure,” I’d give it a medium – though Jackie might be bolder.


  • Report back on the utility of Zotero, Papers, and Google Docs/Sheets for tracking preliminary investigations like these. Decide whether to commit a team-wide solution at this point or experiment with other options in the next round.

As I noted, Papers didn’t prove to be immediately and obviously helpful, as compared to Google Sheets and Dropbox. If we can figure out how to use it to organize full-text articles, it might be worth exploring – but, since it isn’t free, I suspect Zotero will be at least as desirable, if we want a purpose-built software solution.

  • Thanks for this line of inquiry! I am concerned here and stand (with Jackie) in suggesting that the absence of literature on “informal” arts is troubling here, overall. Before WolfBrown, I’d throw out Alaka Wali’s benchmark study in Chicago i(2002, see below), Maribel Alvarez’s pioneering work on the rich proliferation of avocational or unincorporated cultural expression in Silicon Valley (2003), and Maria Rosario Jackson’s multiple works on community cultural expression in low income areas (2008 is cited below). Also Brent Reidy/James Irvine’s recent (2014) important work inserts a vital problematic by asking those researching policy and art equity to put cultural
    creativity and participation in cultural context through the deliberate
    replacement of “formal” and “traditional” with “unusual”. I’m scaring myself with all of these scare quotes –and I hope that
    you’ll accept this entire comment with utmost respect for the research
    topic, which parallels my own work at UCLA on dance infrastructure. In raising these concerns, I do not mean to undercut the important work that Novak-Leonard and Brown did through “Beyond Attendance” (2011) which, along with some key panels put together during Landesman/Shigekawa, was integral in convincing the ORA at the NEA to make a modular addendum to the SPPA in 2012 to expand public surveying beyond “fine art” benchmarks by adding modules that asked about avocational arts engagement. Now I’m going blind on acronyms–sorry! In sum, the historical narrowing of the question of cultural equity through recourse to “formal” needs to be addressed head on, in my view. Any recourse to “formal” runs the risk of dismissing cultural traditions that are operating and thriving in low income areas, frequently with minimal institutional or commercial infrastructural support. Thanks– Sarah Wilbur UCLA
    Here’s some lit:

    Wali, A., Severson, R., & Longoni, M. (2002). Research
    Report to the Chicago Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College:
    Informal Arts: Finding Cohesion, Capacity and Other Cultural Benefits in
    Unexpected Placed. Chicago Center for Arts Policy.

    Alvarez, M. (2005). There’s nothing informal about it: Participatory arts within the cultural ecology of Silicon Valley. Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley.
    Jackson, M. R. (2008). Art and cultural participation at the heart of community life. Understanding the arts and creative sector in the United States, 92-104.

    Novak-Leonard, J. L.,
    & Brown, A. S. (2011). Beyond Attendance: A Multi-Modal
    Understanding of Arts Participation. Based on the 2008 Survey of Public
    Participation in the Arts. Research Report# 54. National Endowment for the Arts.Reidy, Brent. (2014)”Why Where? Because Who: Arts Venues Spaces and Traditions” James Irvine Foundation.

  • Thanks so much for this, Sarah! We actually reviewed both “Informal Arts” and “Beyond Attendance” in Createquity’s former incarnation as part of the Arts Policy Library. See:

    With respect to your cautionary note, I just want to clarify that the distinction between “formal” and “informal” modes of participation comes from the research that we’re encountering, and is not necessarily one that we see as central. Our definition of a healthy arts ecosystem does not place any special privilege on what might be considered “formal” participation modes vs. others. But your point is absolutely well taken that without explicitly considering informal participation, we risk being misled to some extent by the research that exists. Thanks again for your contribution!