“Taiwanese Performance” by East-West Center

Title: Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators

Author(s): Maria Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, and Joaquin Herranz

Publisher: The Urban Institute

Year: 2006


Topics: Cultural Indicators, Neighborhoods, Community, Cultural Vitality

Methods: literature review, indicator construction using existing data

What it Says: This report builds on the Arts and Culture Community Indicator Project (ACIP)’s 2002 study, “Culture Counts in Communities.” In this report, ACIP introduces the term “cultural vitality” and defines it as follows: “Cultural vitality is the evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities.”

The authors find that while a growing number of urban and community indicator systems are including arts and culture both in the US and abroad, the definitions of arts and culture that are used are rather narrow, traditional definitions.

Of the four domains laid out in the 2002 framework, the authors only consider three appropriate for measurement through indicators: presence, participation, and support systems.

The indicators they propose are:

Presence of Opportunities for Cultural Participation

  • Nonprofit, public, and commercial arts-related organizations
  • Retail arts venues (bookstores, music stores, film theaters, craft and art supply stores)
  • Non-arts venues with arts and cultural programming (parks, libraries, ethnic associations, societies, and centers)
  • Festivals and parades
  • Arts-focused media outlets (print and electronic, including web-based venues)
  • Art schools


  • Amateur art making
  • Collective/community art making
  • K-12 arts education
  • Arts after-school programs
  • Audience participation
  • Purchase of artistic goods (materials for making art as well as final arts products)
  • Discourse about arts and culture in the media


  • Public expenditures in support of the arts in all sectors (nonprofit, public, and commercial)
  • Foundation expenditures in support of the arts (nonprofit, public, and commercial)
  • Volunteering and personal giving to the arts
  • Presence of working artists
  • Integration of arts and culture into other policy areas and corresponding allocation of resources (e.g., community development, education, parks and recreation, etc.)

The authors go on to describe what types of data would be necessary (and what limited data is currently available) to include arts and culture in quality of life indicators. Among the currently available data they distinguish between four “tiers”, based on factors such as whether the data is publicly accessible, nationally comparable, locally generated, sporadic or recurrent, quantitative or qualitative.

They have been unable to identify any Tier 1 data (publicly accessible, nationally comparable) for the indicators in the Participation domain. In fact, they only have Tier 1 measures for seven of the indicators: four for the Presence and three for the Support domain.

In later sections of the report, the authors describe individual communities based on indicators from across several “tiers” of data, and compare the cultural vitality of several US Metro Areas based on the available “Tier 1 data”.

What I think about it: The proposed indicators are a mix of outputs (presence, support) and outcomes (participation). The indicator system proposed here doesn’t actually demonstrate that cultural vitality contributes to wellbeing. Based on an admittedly cursory review of the report, this seems to be taken for granted (a closer read would be necessary to fully assess this point).

Several of the indicators still lack definition, so that comparisons across communities would involve a lot of judgement calls (e.g., at which point does an ethnic association provide enough cultural programming to be counted as a cultural entity?).

What it all means: It seems to me that the general approach of thinking about the arts in relation to community development and the expanded definition of cultural activity/participation proposed by ACIP are the most significant portions of this study. The actual indicator system proposed here probably does as well as one can with the available data, but as a model it seems neither fully developed conceptually nor well tested as of 2006.