“Atto primo ▼ Picnic” by BAAM Milano

Title: Culture Counts in Communities: A Framework for Measurement

Author(s): Maria Rosario Jackson and Joaquin Herranz

Publisher: The Urban Institute

Year: 2002

URL: http://www.urban.org/research/publication/culture-counts-communities

Topics: Cultural Indicators, Neighborhoods, Community, Cultural Vitality

Methods: Literature review, consultations (interviews and focus groups) with experts and community members

What it says: The Arts and Culture Indicators Project (ACIP) was launched in 1996. “Recognizing that arts and culture had too frequently been neglected in efforts to assess quality of life” the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned the Urban Institute to “explore the possibility of integrating arts and culture-related measures into neighborhood indicator systems.”

The researchers conducted interviews and focus groups with arts professionals and community residents, and reviewed the available literature. They found that there is neither much empirical data nor theoretical work on the ways in which arts and cultural participation contribute to social dynamics, and the data that is available primarily focuses on formal arts and culture venues. Since the existing research is insufficient as the basis for an indicator system, the authors propose principles and parameters for research and measurement that were developed through a series of workshops and conferences.

The authors present four “guiding principles” for indicator development in communities, which highlight the need to allow the communities that are being studied to define “arts,” “culture,” and “creativity” in ways that are appropriate for their community, the need to be open to broad definitions of participation and the multiplicity of meanings art can have simultaneously, and the fact that opportunities to participate require both arts and non-arts resources.

They go on to propose a conceptual framework that has four domains:

  • presence (qualitative and quantitative cultural inventorying)
  • participation
  • impacts (contribution to community building outcomes)
  • systems of support

Regarding the impact domain, the authors point out that the necessary fuzziness around the definition of arts, culture and creativity make it difficult to pinpoint their impact on community building outcomes.

While the data is considered inadequate to support any definitive conclusions, the authors identify “a list of important impacts that participation in arts, culture, and creativity at the neighborhood level may have” [emphasis added] based on their review of the literature. Directly or indirectly, the arts, culture, and creativity may contribute to

  • supporting civic participation and social capital;
  • catalyzing economic development;
  • improving the built environment;
  • promoting stewardship of place;
  • augmenting public safety;
  • preserving cultural heritage;
  • bridging cultural/ethnic/racial boundaries;
  • transmitting cultural values and history;
  • creating group memory and group identity.

The authors acknowledge that their principles and conceptual framework are just a beginning and that further theoretical development and empirical research is necessary.

What I think about it: This is an important initiative/study that shifted the conversations about arts in communities by introducing expanded definitions of participation and including practitioners and community members in the research/definition of outcomes. It’s really at the beginning of the whole creative placemaking conversation.

Nonetheless, there are some weaknesses: The “Systems of Support” domain in the ACIP framework seems like a measure of outputs rather than outcomes. The same might be said about the mere “presence” of cultural opportunities. Moreover, in the discussion of potential impacts that the arts have on communities little attention is paid to the fact that arts and culture can also work in the opposite direction: they can increase cultural/ethnic/racial boundaries, obscure cultural values and history, etc.

What it all means: ACIP’s objective of including arts and culture in systems of quality of life indicators parallels our work on wellbeing at Createquity, but since they’re focused on neighborhoods it’s not clear that much of their work would carry over to assessments of wellbeing at the national level. For instance, ACIP’s desire to let the communities under investigation develop their own definitions of “arts,” “culture,” and “creativity,” and set their own indicators of cultural participation may make sense at the neighborhood level, but it would be extremely difficult to arrive at a national consensus on these matters through community consultations. Similarly, it is easier to imagine incorporating qualitative data that sheds light on local history and local cultural meanings in the context of neighborhoods than in national indicator systems.