Photo by hobvias sudoneighm

AC’s Home Office. Photo by hobvias sudoneighm


Arts & Economic Disadvantage Research Update

Since our feature article “Why Don’t They Come?” made such a splash back in May, we have been busy following up on its findings, and conducting more research in preparation for a second feature article.

Based on our findings from our previous feature article, we were struck by how much television figures into the free time of American people, and in particular the revelation that it appears to act as a substitute for arts events among poor and less-educated adults. We wondered if we could find out more about whether this substitution is an aid or detriment to  overall wellbeing for those making these choices.

Given our society’s tendency to be distrustful of television (don’t sit too close, you’ll go blind!), we are reviewing the degree to which research suggests television is good or bad for viewers to answer the following questions:

How good or bad is watching TV?

    1. Is watching television associated with lower utility levels or life satisfaction than attending arts events?
    2. Why do people with lower incomes and education levels tend to watch more TV than people with higher incomes and education levels?
    3. Do people with lower incomes and education levels watch different kinds of programming on TV than people with higher incomes and education levels? And does the type of programming make a difference with respect to how good or bad TV is for you?
    4. Are people with different education/income levels more likely to derive different levels of utility from watching television?
    5. How do the benefits or harms of watching television compare to those of attendance at arts events?

What makes poor and less educated adults less likely to be interested in attending arts events, and should we be concerned about this lack of interest?

    1. What do we know about why non-interested non-attendees are uninterested in attending arts events?
    2. Does the greater propensity of low-SES people to watch television rather than attend arts events typically reflect a conscious choice, a lack of awareness, or something else? If a choice, what’s behind that choice?
    3. To the extent that there is a problem or opportunity to improve wellbeing here, can we get a sense of its magnitude?

In addition to reviewing literature on these topics, we have done some regression analysis on television and wellbeing using data from the 2014 General Social Survey. After controlling for variables including health, income level, education level, and job satisfaction, we find that increased hours of watching television is negatively associated with overall life satisfaction. However, the model explains very little of the variation among individual survey respondents, and we don’t know whether more television is a cause or effect of lower life satisfaction. Incidentally, our analysis finds no relationship between arts attendance and life satisfaction after controlling for the factors mentioned above.

We are also reviewing work that has looked into what accounts for the relatively lower levels of apparent interest among poor and less educated adults in attending arts events. To help us shape our inquiry, we are conducting interviews with low-SES adults to help us get a sense of why they are choosing not to attend arts events and help us refine our research questions in this area. We are currently reaching out to organizations to recruit a sample of interview participants and have prepared a question screener for our sample.


History of Change in the Arts Ecosystem Research Update

Since our last update, we’ve made additional progress on our investigation of the history of change in the arts ecosystem. Based on the interviews that we conducted in June, we’ve identified three broad areas in which significant changes have occurred in the arts ecosystem over the past 50 years. These areas are:

  • Expansion of the nonprofit arts infrastructure as seen in the proliferation of nonprofit arts organizations, government arts agencies, and philanthropic support, as well as growth in the number of arts administrators
  • Broadening of the definition of “artin the nonprofit arts establishment to be more inclusive of non-European cultural traditions, popular culture, and new artistic disciplines
  • New technologies that have made it cheaper and easier to produce, distribute, and access cultural products

Having outlined each of these research areas and identified several key developments within each of them, we are currently conducting bibliographic research to assess the breadth and depth of the available literature. In exploring the changes that have taken place in these three realms, we want to examine both external factors that have had a significant impact on the arts ecosystem and changes that were effected (whether intentionally or not) from within the ecosystem.


We look forward to sharing our initial insights from these investigations soon. As always, if you are familiar with any of these topics and/or know of additional research that you think may be pertinent to our work, we welcome your thoughts in the comments.