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

Process background

Our research on this topic has been rather cursory. Jackie spent a few hours searching Google Scholar and John spent a few hours searching JSTOR and Project Muse.

 

Extent to which research exists addressing the topic area in general

Our initial searches have confirmed that literature on this topic exists. Much of the work on this topic seems to have been generated by sociologists working in the 1980s and ’90s, though we also unearthed nine (of 28) potential sources from the 2000s. This may in part result from the fact that John was already familiar with some of that work and derived search terms from his knowledge of it. There is also some historical research that traces the origins of our major arts organizations and current funding practices to their origins in the nineteenth century.

 

Extent to which research exists addressing the specific hypotheses that we developed

John focused his investigation on hypotheses 1a, b, and c. Among these hypotheses, 1a (“Arts organizations are not producing best possible mix because arts organizations develop programming that caters to the tastes of wealthy donors”) and 1c (“The current infrastructure does not connect people with the cultural products and experiences they are likely to appreciate because many wealthy patrons and donors are invested in maintaining the elite status of the arts institutions they support”) seem to be addressed most directly in the literature. There was little that specifically addressed 1b (“The current infrastructure does not connect people with the cultural products and experiences they are likely to appreciate the most because those institutions are dominated by wealthy individuals (board members) whose appreciation of the arts disproportionately favors elite/Western art forms.”)

Jackie focused primarily on hypotheses 2 and 3, though much of what she uncovered related more closely to 1a, b, and c. Regarding hypothesis 2 (“The arts infrastructure does not serve its function in a healthy arts ecosystem as well as it could because wealthy people usually lack the motivation and skill to consider effectively the overall needs of the ecosystem when making large donations”), there were a number of relevant articles and studies of the giving habits, motivations, and qualifications of wealthy individuals to have such influence over the sector. These were mostly from the ’90s, but there are also a few from the aughts. Most of the articles related to hypothesis 2 fit more clearly with 2a (“Wealthy people often support large, established institutions that may be overfunded relative to their positive impact on the arts ecosystem”), but without having actually read the entirety of each article, it’s possible 2b (“Wealthy people sometimes create or prop up high-budget vanity projects that divert resources and attention away from organizations that are more effective and whose missions align better with the goal of ecosystem health”) may be covered in a less-obvious way.

Jackie was unable to find much of anything related to hypothesis 3 (“Scarce opportunities are not distributed to those who have the most to contribute, because wealthy people who have less to contribute self-fund their artistic careers to a significant extent and in doing so crowd others out of the opportunity to make a living from their art”).

 

Areas of consensus and debate in the research /

Initial impression regarding the extent to which each hypothesis is supported by the research that does exist

There seems to be consensus that people’s tastes are informed by their social class, and that taste can serve as means of preserving social boundaries. There is also some research that directly supports the hypothesis that the tastes of prominent donors influence the art that organizations produce/present.

There seems to be a consensus that the sector is perhaps too open to the influence of wealthy individuals because of their capacity to serve as board members and/or large donors. It seems that wealthy individuals are much more likely to give with the interests of their own, privileged community in mind than that of the “greater good.”

  • Michael Bitton

    Will you be posting your sources for these posts? It would be nice to have a list of resources to check out along with the report.

    • Great question, Michael. We absolutely intend to share our sources, once we have them cleaned up a bit. So far, we’ve been using Zotero to track our research, so the most likely next step will be to open up read access to that collection. Look for something on this front in the next month.

  • Jennifer Benoit-Bryan

    I’d love to see the sources for this post. Would you mind sharing them?