Around the horn: John Oliver edition


  • Two new Presidential cabinet nominees, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, have pro-arts backgrounds according to Americans for the Arts’s Bob Lynch.
  • The Atlanta Regional Commission is one of the only metropolitan planning organizations and one of the largest communities to date to attempt to bring the arts and creative industries under one roof. Greg Burbidge wonders how best to find common ground among the interests of entities as diverse as video game designers, history museums, and dance collectives.
  • Kudos to Hyperallergic’s Mostafa Haddaya for picking up this very odd job announcement from the unlikeliest of places:

    The Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency with a projected 2014 budget of just under $60 billion, would like to retain an experienced arts administrator for its “Loaned Executive Program.” The proposed position offers a salary range of “$0.00 to $0.00 / Without Compensation” and is

    [A] special opportunity (unpaid) that provides top executive-level talent from the private sector an opportunity to share their expertise with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fill special, discrete needs.


  • The founding CEO of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, Harriet Ivey, is retiring after 15 years at the helm. The Trust makes grants to arts organizations in Indianapolis and Phoenix.
  • Tom Kaiden is moving on after 12 years at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (including three as President) to take a position at the Arlington Alexandria (VA) Convention and Visitors Association.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts’s Director of Literature, Ira Silverberg, is leaving the agency to return to New York. Silverberg had been a literary agent before joining the Endowment.
  • Keith Sawyer, my favorite creativity and innovation blogger, is moving to Chapel Hill, NC to take a professorship in the University of North Carolina’s School of Education.


  • Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance have joined together to combat the Overhead Myth – the idea (promulgated over the years by some of these same organizations, particularly Charity Navigator) that a nonprofit’s impact is somehow tied to the percentage of money it spends on its programs. The wide adoption of this construct has had all sorts of perverse unintended consequences in the sector, from non-transparent accounting to unsustainable management practices. Related commentary from Paul BrestKjerstin Erickson and (unintentionally) Janet Brown.


  • Wise words from Michael Rushton, in a post ostensibly about VIP tickets at amusement parks:

    I don’t feel an intuitive sense of being wronged when someone has the spending power and the desire to buy $50 bottles of olive oil, $5,000 suits, $100,000 cars. None of those purchases affect me. But if someone uses their spending power to gain position at my expense, then I object. This is at the root of complaints about the role of money in campaign financing: funds are spent by individuals and corporations wishing to advance their political agenda at the expense of other political claims. It is why we think there is something wrong with an industry that serves to collect millions of dollars preparing students to do well on their SATs: such efforts are purely designed for parents who want their children to have a better position, necessarily at the expense of others, for a chance at the limited spaces available at elite colleges. Fighting for position in these cases is worse than a zero-sum game, it’s actually a negative-sum game as resources are expended not for any increase in valuable goods, but simply to re-arrange who is at the front of the queue, either in politics or higher education.

  • Sad I missed this new talk from the reliably brilliant Nina Simon, delivered at this year’s Theatre Communications Group conference in Dallas. Lots to chew on here, but what strikes me most is the combination of aggressive risk-taking and hyper-focused strategic thinking – an approach with such clear upsides and yet a frightening one for many in our field, I think.



  • The NEA has released new data on artist employment, updating its Artists in the Workforce study from 2005. In addition to summary findings, numerous tables are available for exploration.
  • So people don’t always read to the end of articles – what else is new? But this is:

    Even more dispiriting is the relationship between scrolling and sharing. Schwartz’s data suggest that lots of people are tweeting out links to articles they haven’t fully read. If you see someone recommending a story online, you shouldn’t assume that he has read the thing he’s sharing.

    That is the truth. I have to laugh sometimes at what kinds of things are said about Createquity articles on Twitter, like when Tegan Kehoe’s skeptical review of “The Artistic Dividend” two weeks ago was hailed as (a) an analysis of a brand-new study [it was published a decade ago] and (b) good news for arts advocates.

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Cool jobs of the month

Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation

Over half a billion people use Wikipedia and its sister projects every month. As a top five web property and the only donor-supported site in the top 100, the Wikimedia Foundation enables a global community of volunteers to collect, develop and make freely available the sum of humanity’s knowledge. The Wikimedia Foundation is seeking an Executive Director to guide the organization through its next phase of innovation and growth.

No deadline.

Community Arts Development Coordinator, Nevada Arts Council

The position manages the Community Arts Development Program of the Nevada Arts Council, a state agency. The position develops and coordinates short- and long-term programs, initiatives and partnerships that serve local arts agencies, civic leaders, communities and community-based arts organizations to strengthen and enhance community vitality and access to the arts. This position is located in the Carson City office and requires travel throughout the state to serve rural communities, as well as the Reno and Las Vegas metropolitan areas.

No deadline. Salary range is $40,862.16 to $60,405.84.

Senior Vice President, Arts & Theatres, Ticketmaster

The SVP, Arts & Theatres primary role is to lead a team of senior account executives (Client Development Directors or “CDDs”), who manage our client relationships, focusing on overall client satisfaction, client profitability, revenue growth and client retention.  Additionally, the SVP and team have primary responsibility for sourcing and securing new ticketing accounts.  It is critical for the SVP to thoroughly understand the fundamentals of the CDD job—development of account plans, management of the renewal cycle (including RFP management and the development of winning financial proposals), effective and consistent client communication, operational problem solving, etc.—as well as Ticketmaster’s overarching strategy and priorities.   The SVP must be deeply connected to our clients, principally at the executive level.  This allows the SVP to set and adjust priorities as the environment changes, particularly with respect to client needs and the competitive environment.   The SVP must successfully balance strategic and operational roles, and display the judgment, work ethic, creativity and commitment to results necessary to make the SVP an outstanding role model for not only the CDDs, but for others throughout the company as well.

No deadline. Yeah, it’s Ticketmaster…but hey, I’m sure it pays a shitload of money!

Director of Programs, EmcArts

EmcArts is looking for an experienced practitioner who can lead the design and continuous improvement of our programs, assist in delivering portions of the programs, oversee the implementation of each program, and build relationships with current and prospective program supporters. The successful candidate will have a strong interest in organizational innovation and adaptive change in arts and culture organizations and be an outstanding and proactive leader and implementer with strong program design, process facilitation, organizational, and interpersonal skills. Candidates should have experience working with arts and culture organizations, experience facilitating, coaching and/or teaching adult groups, developing partnerships, designing experiential learning processes and events, and thrive working as a part of a small, close-knit creative team.

Deadline: July 21. They are open to an 80%/4-day-a-week arrangement for the right person.

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Graduation Day

With a whirlwind of posts, the spring 2013 Createquity Writing Fellowship came to an end last week. For the first time since 2011, three writers plied their craft side by side for the full length of the term, providing a welcome diversity of perspectives and approaches. This round also saw some innovations compared to previous editions; most notably, each Fellow managed an Around the Horn for two weeks and peer-edited another Fellow’s article. I’m grateful to Tegan, Hayley and Dan for their willingness to be trailblazers for the program in these respects. Here’s everything that they did over the past four and a half months:

Tegan Kehoe was Createquity’s first museum specialist, and I suitably have Nina Simon to thank for pointing her my way. Tegan’s analytical and methodical approach was an asset to the site all the way through.

Dan Thompson sought to bridge his background as a jazz musician with his current studies in statistics, economics and social policy throughout his Fellowship term.

  • The Pitfalls of Shared Goals: What is the Commons? is the first of a three-part series exploring how the tragedy of the commons plays out in the arts realm, and how the arts embody approaches to collaboration that can, in fact, be part of the solution.
  • Dan’s second post in the series, The Promise of Shared Goals (peer-edited by Hayley Roberts), elaborates on how literature from economics, political science, cognitive linguistics, and even mathematics informs the question of how people overcome the tragedy of the commons in everyday arts settings, and how these lessons can be applied to arts funding. Dan’s third and final post in the series is forthcoming.
  • What am I Worth to You? considers conflicting expectations of compensation among creative artists, and how three different logics – of utility, community, and justice – inform our disparate responses.
  • Dan’s Arts Policy Library: Good & Plenty takes on Tyler Cowen’s book about the “creative successes” of American arts policy. While Dan takes issue with the book’s framing of the political conversation about the arts, he finds some merit in its celebration of decentralization as a guiding principle of arts funding.

Hayley Roberts brought her background in social justice philanthropy to bear on several meaty articles exploring the role of the arts in building (or tearing apart) communities.

The Around the Horn roundups assembled by the crew include Habemus papem edition (Hayley), Spring has Sprung Edition (Tegan), and Lois Lerner, we hardly knew ye edition (Dan).

Congratulations Tegan, Dan and Hayley! The next round of applications for the Createquity Writing Fellowship will open in a few weeks. An announcement will be posted at that time, and until then you can find the archived application materials and instructions here.

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Culture and Community Revitalization: the Executive Summary

(This is a bite-sized version of the much longer piece Arts Policy Library: Culture and Community Revitalization.)

The Social Impact of the Arts Project, based at the University of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1994 with the intent of studying the connection between the arts and community life. Over time, SIAP has established mechanisms to help us measure how the arts benefit the areas they inhabit. Culture and Community Revitalization is the result of two years of research done between 2006 and 2008 and consists of summary materials, a literature review, three policy briefs, and a community investment prospectus. The Rockefeller Foundation, which commissioned Culture and Community Revitalization, asked SIAP to partner with The Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, and find ways to “merge cultural data with other types of information on urban revitalization.” Despite some promising findings from the research overview, Stern and Seifert end on a pessimistic note, cautioning that more research is needed before policy decisions can be based off of SIAP’s linkage of cultural engagement to community revitalization.

The literature review covers a vast array of research on the relationship between the creative sector, economics and social benefits, ultimately determining that while most research explores the connection between culture and economic gains, more work needs to be done better understand the less-quantifiable social impacts. The policy briefs make the case for local policymakers to place more of an emphasis on the arts as a way to unlock the human capital in urban areas. Finally, the community investment prospectus provide practical recommendations and case studies that demonstrate different approaches to investing in cultural clusters.

The main strength of the report is its innovative approach to quantifying the ways arts and culture contribute to community revitalization. One of the main highlights of the Culture and Community Revitalization project is a methodology called the Cultural Asset Index. Stern and Seifert were able to build upon The Reinvestment Fund’s Market Value Analysis methodology to demonstrate that a concentration of cultural assets can be connected to a rise in real estate value. Conversely, the study fails to fully grapple with the potential downsides of neighborhood cultural investment strategies, particularly when it comes to issues around gentrification and displacement. Stern and Seifert’s research leads them to conclude that the benefits of creative clusters are not only about economics but also creating and strengthening social bonds across different types of networks.

Stern and Seifert suggest that cities can encourage the development of “natural” cultural districts by attracting private investment; focusing on “quality of life investments” such as regular trash pick-ups, and more green space;  pursuing workforce development policies that help young people gain entry into the creative sector; and gathering more data and background information about how these cultural clusters work.

Stern and Seifert’s research has been applied in practice since the publication of Culture and Community Revitalization. Most notably, the national creative placemaking initiatives Our Town and ArtPlace have used SIAP’s work in varying degrees to shape their approach to arts funding.

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Arts Policy Library: Culture and Community Revitalization


(For a much briefer version of this analysis, please see the Executive Summary.)


The Social Impact of the Arts Project, based at the University of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1994 with the intent of studying the connection between the arts and community life. After all, “if the arts and culture do, in fact, have an important role in improving the lives of ordinary people, we should be able to measure it.” SIAP has completed 13 projects and dozens of related publications since its founding in 1994 and in recent years has frequently partnered with The Reinvestment Fund on its research.

From 2006 to 2008 SIAP’s Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert researched and compiled a set of documents that sought to investigate the real impact of the “creative economy” on community and economic development. The Rockefeller Foundation funded SIAP and The Reinvestment Fund to partner and “merge cultural data with other types of information on urban revitalization.” The project’s publications included a literature review, three policy briefs, and a community investment prospectus in addition to a range of summary materials. This project led SIAP to frame its subsequent work around the concept of “natural” cultural districts, or specific geographic areas dense with cultural assets that have evolved in grassroots fashion.

Literature Review

The centerpiece of Culture and Community Revitalization is an expansive literature review covering three main areas related to the creative sector: culture in the current context, current theories about culture-based revitalization, and the neighborhood-based creative economy. Stern and Seifert argue that, in contrast to the wealth of literature on quantifying the impact of the creative economy, a nuanced approach to the social and community benefits of developing creative sectors has yet to be fully explored. In the end, it may be the community-building influence of the creative sector that will prove the most impactful.

Culture in the Current Context

Stern and Seifert begin the literature review with a tour of various longitudinal shifts that they see as critical to understanding the context in which the creative sector now operates. They begin by analyzing what they call the “new urban reality,” characterized by a few specific factors: increasing social diversity, expanding economic inequality, and the physical reshaping of the city’s industry hubs.

Whereas the middle of the 20th century was characterized by the exodus of middle and upper class citizens fleeing the urban core for suburbs, the last three to four decades have seen this trend dramatically reverse. An influx of new residents has shifted the types of diversity in urban neighborhoods, especially in the makeup of households (more unmarried households) and the age of inhabitants (more young adults). Additionally, immigrants from Latin America and Asia are increasing the ethnic diversity of urban centers and introducing new forms of artistic engagement into the mix. Meanwhile, income inequality in cities has been exacerbated—as the urban core becomes more attractive, the cost of living has also increased accordingly, pushing out low-income residents. The authors note that the cultural economy is specifically susceptible to the plight of “winner-take-all” markets, a theory promoted by Robert Frank and Phillip Cook that “changes in the American labor market have expanded the number of job categories in which the most skilled members reap a disproportionate share of rewards.”

These demographic and economic changes in cities have also contributed to changes in cities’ physical and geographic structure. Buoyed by the resurgence of cities in general, rehabilitated downtown areas began to serve increasingly important business, entertainment and recreational functions. Production clusters, or decentralized collections of small firms operating in related industries in close proximity, have emerged as a “new kind of spatial organizational form” that is particularly relevant to creative occupations.

Meanwhile, a significant reshaping of the nonprofit cultural sector has been taking place. The authors suggest that “the marketization of the nonprofit cultural sector—the increased stress placed on earned income and financial performance—has been the dominant policy of the cultural sector for the past 15 years.” Over the years these financial pressures, exacerbated by expectations placed on nonprofits by their funders, have put pressure on mid-sized organizations and further stratified the field. The number of small cultural organizations has exploded, but cooperation between community-based groups and large cultural institutions has proven challenging. In the context of this shifting landscape, the dominant paradigm of the cultural sector has changed from high culture vs. mass entertainment to large and broad vs. small and niche.

Given the changes noted above, the notion of a centralized “cultural policy” in the U.S. is essentially obsolete. The arts have never had much of a stronghold in the policy arena, but the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965 was born out of a time when top-down, ambitious social and cultural policy goals were the norm. With the subsequent rise in power of global corporations and special interest groups however, government is now “more likely to find itself brokering transactions between contending interests than setting its own agenda.” Nevertheless, the lack of an entrenched cultural bureaucracy and special interests has its advantages. As Stern and Seifert see it, their absence may make it easier for the cultural sector to innovate and be integrated into other areas of policymaking.

The Current State of the Literature

Stern and Seifert divide current research on the economic and social value of the arts into two main categories: creative economy literature and community-building literature. In addition, there is an emerging third category that looks at the negative effects of culture-based revitalization; however, this literature has largely been ignored by researchers who tend to focus on the first two categories.

The first wave of interest in economic development and the arts began with a 1983 study by the Port Authority of NY and NJ that calculated the economic impact of the arts based on nonprofit expenditures and cultural consumption. Similar studies soon followed and contributed to the formation of the first “cultural districts.” A second strand of creative economy literature focuses on creativity’s role in an area’s overall economic productivity. Over time creative economy scholars have expanded the definition of the cultural sector to include both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors; the oft-cited Richard Florida has a particularly broad definition.  Stern and Seifert choose two bodies of research for more in-depth examination: the Center for an Urban Future’s economic impact study of New York City creative industries and Ann Markusen’s work on the economic role of artists. The Center for an Urban Future suggested that policymakers should begin to look at the arts as an economic sector and take bold steps to help neighborhoods working toward permanent cultural development. Markusen focused on the “hidden contributions artists make to regional economies,” concluding that the unique contribution of artists provides an “artistic dividend” to economic development.

Geography is another important factor in the economic development of the arts.  A 1996 study of the Los Angeles design industry by Allen J. Scott suggested that firms choose to be in close geographic proximity to one another because doing so encourages efficiency, innovation, and process improvements. Stern and Seifert’s Social Impact of the Arts Project applied these ideas to Philadelphia, eventually leading them to the concept of “cultural clusters” or “natural cultural districts” that take into account both production and consumption and both economic and social lenses of impact, all at the neighborhood scale.

In contrast to the research on the economic benefits of the cultural sector, studies focused on community building and culture tend to focus on grassroots and community engagement practices. The bodies of work Stern and Seifert examine in depth are Maria Rosario Jackson’s work with the Urban Institute’s Arts and Culture Indicators Project, Alaka Wali’s studies of informal arts in Chicago, the Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley studies of immigrant and participatory arts, and SIAP’s own work on metropolitan Philadelphia. The Urban Institute’s initial study made suggestions for a “conceptual framework” for research and measurement in the field that would include a broad definition of culture. A later report catalogued “initiatives to integrate culture into broader indicators of metropolitan well-being.”

These studies also began to define the “unincorporated,” “participatory,” or “informal arts” to describe cultural activities that take place outside of traditional institutions. Alaka Wali’s Informal Arts project assembled 12 ethnographic case studies of informal arts activities in the Chicago metro area. The report concluded that informal arts strengthen the entire arts sector, bridge social boundaries that sustain inequality, and build community assets.  Wali followed up on Informal Arts with a study for the Field Museum that looked at cultural, social and artistic practices in the Chicago-area Mexican immigrant community, concluding that “through engaging in informal arts…, Mexican immigrants are creating significant social resources, promoting economic participation, developing civic skills, and reaching out to non-immigrants.”

The Silicon Valley studies, by Pia Moriarty and Maribel Alvarez, sought to place the informal arts into local community context and existing models of cultural production. They introduced the concept of “bonded-bridging” (in-group bonding that supports out-group connections) to the literature, and found that despite informal arts practitioners’ “modest and concrete” goals, a “facture [between formal and informal arts contexts] runs through the Valley’s self-identified ‘cultural community.’”

Despite the considerable volume of research on the cultural sector, Stern and Seifert still feel that the potential negative effects of urban revitalization represent a significant gap in the literature. Without closing the door to new evidence, they argue that the “empirical documentation of art-based gentrification is not particularly strong” and suggest the connection between arts-based urban revitalization and gentrification has been overhyped to date. By contrast, Stern and Seifert maintain that economic inequality in the creative sector is a much more pressing, and well-documented, issue. In fact, their study of artists in six American cities “between 1980 and 2000 found that artists were consistently among the individual occupations with the highest degree of income inequality.” Many of the high-paying jobs in the creative sector require advanced schooling, creating a lack of opportunity for residents who have education equivalent to a high school degree or less.

An Ecosystem-Based Approach

SIAP proposes a new way of thinking about community-based revitalization in the creative sector that integrates both economic and social perspectives on the arts which they term the “neighborhood-based creative economy.”  Stern and Seifert see this framework as providing a potential path toward activating the cultural economy of urban neighborhoods, further integrating local residents with the regional economy and civil society.

In SIAP’s conception of the community cultural ecosystem, nonprofit arts organizations must share the “cultural opportunity provider” role with other entities including street festivals and performances, for-profit cultural firms like dance academies or movie theaters, and non-arts community-based organizations. This is not to say that nonprofits cannot still play an important role beyond serving as direct-service providers. They are also fiscal sponsors and networking agents between regional entities and creative sources; additionally, they often open their physical space to smaller groups. Overall the community cultural ecosystem is interdependent, no matter if the arts organization is a for-profit, nonprofit or “informal” artistic entity.

To provide a quantitative counterpart to this theoretical notion of the community cultural ecosystem, Stern and Seifert constructed a matrix for Culture and Community Revitalization called the Cultural Asset Index. SIAP identified four cultural asset measures–nonprofit cultural organizations, commercial cultural firms, individual artists, and regional participation rates–and localized each of these measures to block groups within the Philadelphia region. Using a factor analysis, Stern and Seifert were able to reduce these four measures to a single variable (a “cultural asset score”) that explained 81% of the variance in the four measures. Then, through regression analysis, they developed an equation to model predicted cultural asset concentrations in Philadelphia based on per capita income, % non-family households, and distance from the city center. Finally, they identified neighborhoods that had higher-than-expected cultural asset scores based on those inputs. One of the purposes of this analysis was to integrate SIAP’s work with the Market Value Analysis methodology of their project partner, The Reinvestment Fund, which resulted in some of the findings reported elsewhere in this summary. Stern and Seifert suggest using this information in various other ways, such as classifying areas strong in cultural assets as cultural districts; targeting workforce development efforts towards low-income, culturally rich areas; and targeting social inclusion interventions towards low-income, culture-poor neighborhoods.

There is a natural tension between the creative economy and community-oriented ideas of cultural revitalization: whereas the latter seeks to lift up currently marginalized elements of the population, the economic approach tends to concentrate resources on “the most visible and profitable aspects of the creative sector.” Unfortunately, the bulk of the discussion and research on the value of culture to society seeks to justify investment solely through an economic lens and valorizes “creative” workers at the expense of everyone else, potentially exacerbating economic inequality. Due to the substantial support labor required by creative occupations, Stern and Seifert encourage policymakers to explore untapped workforce development opportunities that may be lurking within the creative economy.

Despite some promising findings from the research overview, Stern and Seifert end on a pessimistic note, cautioning that more research is needed before policy decisions can be based off of SIAP’s linkage of cultural engagement to community revitalization. They do argue forcefully that in a rational world, policymakers would limit their investments in large-scale cultural projects whose primary purpose is to serve tourists, given the lack of evidence to suggest how low- and moderate-income individuals can benefit from such initiatives. Nevertheless, the authors acknowledge that a number of factors play into policymaking decisions regarding culture and revitalization, and admit that even the promising evidence of social benefits SIAP documented likely isn’t compelling enough or on a large enough scale to garner the support to push through substantive policy changes. 

Policy Briefs and Community Prospectus

While the literature review forms the center of the Culture and Community Revitalization project, SIAP bolsters it with a set of policy briefs to highlight practical applications of its findings. The first policy brief, “From Creative Economy to Creative Society: A social policy paradigm for the creative sector has the potential to address urban poverty as well as urban vitality,” synthesizes much of the literature review and makes a full-throated case for a neighborhood-based approach to cultural development focused on social inclusion rather than economic prosperity. Stern and Seifert advocate for a revitalization strategy that is “both place- and people-based—that is, it should be grounded in a given locale but have active connections with other neighborhoods and economies throughout the city and region.”

The policy brief recommends that policymakers move away from the centralized planned cultural district model that has been in vogue for some time and instead “identify grassroots nodes as leverage points for public, private, and philanthropic investment” to create sustainable, multi-faceted forms of culturally based redevelopment opportunities.  Focusing on smaller-scale cultural clusters and resources would better address the concerns of “winner-take-all markets,” the relegation of much creative activity to the informal economy, and displacement as a result of gentrification.

In their second policy brief “Migrants, Communities and Cultures,” coauthored by Domenic Vitello, Stern and Seifert use immigrant communities in Philadelphia as a case study for the ways in which the informal arts sector can help build important community ties.  Philadelphia’s rapidly growing, ethnically and economically diverse immigrant populations are also home to diverse forms of cultural expression, but they don’t tend to generate relationships with established cultural organizations. In spite of this, the arts can serve as a connective force that can help immigrants adapt to their new surroundings and form social connections in their new communities.  Due to a stronger immigrant presence in the informal arts sector, cities will need to better research how these newer forms of cultural expression can be better utilized to improve the lives of immigrant communities.

Cultivating ‘Natural’ Cultural Districts,” the  third and final policy brief, introduces the concept of “natural” cultural districts, which are neighborhoods or areas in a city that have “spawned a density of assets— organizations, businesses, participants, and artists— that sets [them] apart from other neighborhoods.” Because these hubs are naturally occurring and build on pre-existing assets, they  offer advantages over cultural districts planned entirely by the city. Stern and Seifert write that the latter “only occasionally are economic successes; most require high, on-going subsidies and effectively feed contemporary cities’ growth of economic inequality.” Stern and Seifert suggest that cities can encourage the development of “natural” cultural districts by attracting private investment; focusing on “quality of life investments” such as regular trash pick-ups, and more green space; pursuing workforce development policies that help young people gain entry into the creative sector; and gathering more data and background information about how these cultural clusters work.

Finally, the community investment prospectus provides a framework for the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to consider modes of investment in arts and culture to facilitate the establishment of vibrant communities. Authored by The Reinvestment Fund’s CEO Jeremy Nowak, “Creativity and Neighborhood Development: Strategies for Community Investment” calls for broadening  “the notion of who…should be part of planning, policy, decision-making and financing related to this field” as well as “top-down and bottom-up strategies that will expand the resources available.” The investment prospectus is accompanied by a case study detailing how a mixture of private and public investment transformed the Crane Arts Plumbing Company’ building in Old Kensington Philadelphia from an industrial space to a true arts hub in the neighborhood. The building now houses “37 studios for different artistic mediums, rooms for three arts organizations, and space for community events.”


Overall, Stern and Seifert present a comprehensive scan of the current state of the work on urban revitalization and the creative economy. Unlike many other studies on the subject, Stern and Seifert have created a quantitative methodology that allows users to quantify cultural activity in specific locations. Their research highlights some areas that need further study and emphasizes some theories that have the potential to truly change the way policymakers and practitioners view the relationship between culture and economy and even how the cultural sector can be organized and operationalized.

That said, there are some weaker points of the study that need more clarification or further research to drive home the ideas Stern and Seifert really want to promote. One of the main themes of SIAP’s work is the positive social impact of cultural activity, but Stern and Seifert seem to waver between emphatically making this point and stressing the need for further study. In addition, the authors don’t fully weigh the meaning of gentrification and related negative impacts of culture-based revitalization, and neglect to make constructive suggestions for further inquiry.

Does culture truly contribute to local economies?

One of the main highlights of the Culture and Community Revitalization project is the Cultural Asset Index. Most research on the arts’ economic and social effects hasn’t attempted nearly as much depth or specificity in showing the relationship between cultural density and other indicators. Stern and Seifert were able to build upon The Reinvestment Fund’s Market Value Analysis methodology to demonstrate that a concentration of cultural assets can be connected to a rise in real estate value. SIAP’s methods to identify rich concentrations of cultural assets in unexpected places could potentially be really empowering for neighborhoods and residents. By uplifting the cultural value in diverse areas, the Cultural Asset Index and its associated correlations can help people within and outside these areas to understand how culture shapes their communities for the better. However, it is unclear exactly how SIAP calculates the index, which could hamper efforts for those unfamiliar with the concepts to understand how it works.

Stern and Seifert conclude that the benefits of creative clusters are not only about economics but also creating and strengthening social bonds across different types of networks. Through its work in Philadelphia and beyond, SIAP is attempting to create empirical methods that show how community arts and the informal arts contribute to the social and economic landscape of cities. A significant weakness of the community-building research cited in the literature review is that the studies take practitioners’ subjective impressions of neighborhood impacts at their word without trying to measure them quantitatively. An example of a more quantitative approach is SIAP’s earlier work establishing a connection between community culture and child welfare in Philadelphia—low-income block groups with high cultural participation were more than twice as likely as comparable block groups to have low truancy and delinquency. More importantly, in original research completed for the Culture and Community Revitalization project, Stern and Seifert found that block groups with high participation rates were twice as likely to undergo economic revitalization, defined as “above average poverty decline and population gain,” a finding supported by further analysis using real estate market classifications from The Reinvestment Fund.  SIAP posits that the correlation between cultural engagement and poverty decline is connected to the cross-geographical/class/ethnic pollination that occurs in cultural hubs. However, Stern and Seifert have not yet been able to clearly attribute these changes to cultural engagement or identify the specific mechanism that causes that change. One possible explanation, supported by the research in the literature review, is the increase of a neighborhood’s “collective efficacy” – its residents’ ability to imagine and work towards positive change.

The authors also postulate that cultural engagement leads to broader civic engagement, but admit that there is little data that can provide linkage between the two.  Part of the “social role” of cultural engagement is defined as the ability of formal and informal arts organizations to attract attendees from outside the local community, helping urban residents experience different parts of their city. Unfortunately, a “lack of comparable data on other forms of community engagement”  to back up the claim that the arts serve as a connective tissue for the social improvement of communities  weakens the case that the benefits of cultural clusters can be seen in social outcomes as opposed to economic outcomes. In spite of this, the original research SIAP has done thus far has uncovered some promising indicators that deserve further exploration.

Much of the data collected is specifically tied to place—namely Philadelphia—making it hard to extrapolate the findings to the nation as a whole. In their analysis of cultural clusters, Stern and Seifert speak to the way that neighborhood-based cultural ecosystems localize the production and consumption of their products and how that contributes to economic stabilization and revitalization. Since much of their reporting focuses on Philadelphia at the turn of the millennium, it is difficult to know whether there were conditions specific to the Philadelphia economy that contributed to their findings or if these were more universal trends. That said, since Culture and Community Revitalization was completed in 2008 SIAP has undertaken studies of other cities, namely Baltimore and Seattle.

Does the idea of “natural cultural districts” resonate with grassroots arts organizations?

Stern and Seifert do a great job of cataloguing the benefits of “informal” cultural participation. For example, they dedicate one of the policy briefs entirely to exploring how the informal arts help connect immigrant communities to services and networks in their new environments. Depending on the intended audience is for this set of research, Seifert and Stern could be providing a great amount of assistance not only for interested researchers who are not specialists in the field, but for advocates and staff of community-based organizations as well. However, the way the report is organized makes it difficult for me to envision the same community-based organizations they uplift in the reports being able to effectively use the research in their work. However, if this is not their intended audience, who are they trying to influence? Do they see this report as a way to help practitioners advocate for the importance of their contributions to their local landscapes?

What role does gentrification play?

Although rising real estate values are a positive outcome on the surface, especially in economically depressed or distressed areas, they do not necessarily bring rising income levels or job prospects to neighborhood residents. While these changes can benefit longtime residents of a developing creative cluster, it is only a benefit to those who actually own property and can manage the subsequent rise in property taxes. Many times, the smartest option for these types of residents is to sell their property (if they even own it in the first place), which could disrupt the neighborhood’s population dynamics and character—low-income residents are not going to sell property with an increased value to other low-income individuals who simply cannot afford the rising price of their real estate. If SIAP’s “natural” cultural districts do not create jobs that are widely accessible to existing residents of the area but eventually drive up the cost of real estate, the question emerges: how truly beneficial are these creative clusters to the average person? Moreover, how do the economic and demographic shifts in these clusters change the nature of the cultural assets that are produced?

Overall, the authors were largely dismissive of the effects of gentrification and its relationship to the arts in their literature review. However, Stern and Seifert do not provide a clear understanding of how they are defining gentrification for the purposes of that assessment, or specific examples of research that failed to show a displacement effect. Instead, they assert that there is not enough clear information about gentrification for them to truly consider it as a factor in their research. This struck me as an odd claim, especially given Stern’s background in U.S. social history and his research on racial inequality. This is a disconnect that continues throughout their body of work.

Stern and Seifert draw a connection between cultural clusters and both economic inequality and rising real estate costs, yet they treat these shifts as wholly separate from the broader issue of gentrification. My personal understanding is that economic inequality and expensive real estate are considered prime contributing factors to gentrification. Since Stern and Seifert do not acknowledge the relationship between these phenomena, it would have been helpful for them to provide the reader with a clearer understanding of what they mean using terms like gentrification or neighborhood stabilization instead of assuming universal understanding of these terms.


Regardless of whether or not the strategies SIAP promotes are the best ones to employ, they are definitely some of the most influential theories out there. Joan Shigekawa, the Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Jeremy Nowak, the Interim Director of ArtPlace, were both involved with the organizational entities that funded and collaborated in the Culture and Community Revitalization project. Prior to her term at the NEA, Shigekawa was the Associate Director for Foundation Initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the study. Nowak is the co-founder and former CEO of The Reinvestment Fund, one of the lead partners in this work. As a result, they’ve begun to explore some of the ideas SIAP has developed about the creative economy into the institutions they now run.

How has work on culture and urban revitalization progressed since the study was published?

In my research, it has been difficult to find models of community revitalization using cultural clusters that do not tie into some, if not all of the theories that are covered in this series of research studies.  Stern and Seifert’s research on local production and consumption, as well as their emphasis on the social benefits of creative placemaking, are deserving of policymakers and advocates’ attentions.   Curiously, at the end of Culture and Community Revitalization’s literature review the authors seem to downplay the role of natural cultural clusters in enhancing urban revitalization, stating that in spite of the correlations between culture, social engagement, and economic improvement, these correlations “do not produce direct-enough benefits to generate enthusiasm among those who actually determine the fate of cities.”

Yet, as previously mentioned, two large philanthropic entities are in the midst of executing their own round of funding based on the idea that cultural assets can improve communities socially and economically. Nowak’s ArtPlace is a collaboration between foundations to put “art at the heart of a portfolio of strategies designed to revitalize communities.” Prior to heading up ArtPlace, Nowak helped it get off the ground as president of one of its original funding partners, the William Penn Foundation.  ArtPlace makes grants in all 50 states and has awarded over $42 million to different organizations thus far. The NEA’s Our Town program, begun under Shigekawa’s tenure as Senior Deputy Chairman of the agency, explains its grantmaking objective as providing funding for “creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core.” Notably, both funding entities have supported SIAP and TRF’s latest collaboration in partnership with the City of Philadelphia, an interactive data portal called CultureBlocks, specifically designed to bridge the gap between cultural assets and City Hall in the name of community revitalization.

All of this philanthropic activity does beg the question: if natural cultural clusters already exist and are improving their communities, is it really necessary for the public and private sector to get involved? Observing the trajectory of the ArtPlace and Our Town initiatives will help bear this question out.

Are there better models out there?

As pointed out in a previous Createquity piece on the arts and gentrification, there are some really innovative artist and community-driven projects focused on neighborhood revitalization and stabilization across the country. These projects include Project Row Houses in Houston, the work of Theaster Gates Rebuild Foundation on the South Side of Chicago, and the Watts House Project in Watts, CA. Though these projects have been subject to their own criticisms, they do seem to provide an alternative to both completely “natural” cultural cluster development and the completely government-initiated cultural district approach. That said, the aforementioned projects have all been implemented within the past decade—it is still too early to truly determine how deep of an impact they will make, both locally and nationally. Will another innovator be able to combine the work of the artist/community developers and the theories promoted by Stern and Seifert? Is that even the path that should be taken or is it best to leave “natural” cultural clusters alone to develop according to their own ethos?


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The Potential of Partnerships in Arts and Healthcare

Imagine a hospital with musicians on call, able to come to your bedside to play for you. Arts and crafts workshops tailored to the needs of patients with a specific type of illness. Healing gardens with visual arts classes. Weekly lunchtime poetry readings. While it’s not the harsh white light and smell of antiseptic cleaners most people associate with healthcare, this model is gaining in popularity. For decades, some organizations have incorporated the arts into healthcare, and now, as more and more of them are forging partnerships across a variety of organizations, the practice has a broader reach than ever. All of the examples above are real, and they are from one program, Shands Arts in Medicine at UF&Shands, the teaching hospital at the University of Florida.

Learning about programs like this, I had a hunch that partnerships between arts organizations and health organizations will be the next big thing for both groups. I thought with some research I would learn that the number of partnerships between an individual health organization and an individual arts organization has grown in the last five to ten years, and to an extent, that’s true. But some of the best, and even the fastest-growing, programs for the arts in healthcare have been around for decades. The commonality between most of these very robust programs, old and new, is they are not one partnership – they are many partnerships. Programs for the arts in healthcare appear to thrive when they are created and supported by a network of groups, each contributing their own specialty.


I present as informed speculation the idea that programs for the arts in healthcare work best as networks, and suggest it as an area for further exploration. My analysis is based on a subjective impression of which programs are thriving, as demonstrated by the number of patients an organization has served or visitors to an organization’s public galleries, and by an organization’s reputation within the arts or the healthcare communities. Several of these programs have received accolades or positive appraisal from external organizations. For example, CosaCosa’s Healing Art Project has been featured in Designing the World’s Best Children’s Hospitals, a publication of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals, and both NYU and Audience Focus, Inc. have conducted evaluations of New York MoMA’s Meet Me at MoMA that demonstrate the program’s effectiveness.

As the number of arts and healthcare partnerships increases, so does the number of ways the arts and healthcare interact, including therapeutic initiatives, increasing accessibility to the arts (for people whose disabilities may be a barrier), and decreasing the stigma of a disease. The Global Alliance for Arts & Health (formerly the Society for Arts in Healthcare) defines five focus areas for arts and health: patient care, healing environments, caring for caregivers, community well-being, and education. While all of these are valuable, the programs discussed here primarily relate to the first two categories (patient care and healing environments), although many of them may have other benefits.

Art therapy as a field of study originated in the late nineteenth century, as psychologists began to study the connections between art and mental and emotional wellbeing. As early as the 1930′s, psychologists used art in “milieu therapy,” encouraging patients to enjoy and create art as a part of healthy self-expression. More recently, the practice expanded from mental health to physical health. Music therapy as a discipline has followed a similar trajectory, emerging between the First and Second World Wars and first used for war veterans. These fields provide a substantial foundation for programs that combine arts and healthcare, and many healthcare organizations hire art and music therapists directly or through partnerships.

Musicians Care by Sherman Hospital on Flickr

Musicians Care by Sherman Hospital on Flickr

Some of the earliest programs uniting art and healthcare were simple introductions of visual art into healthcare spaces. The British organization Paintings in Hospitals was founded in 1959 by a hospital employee who saw the positive effect that bringing the visual arts into a healthcare environment had on patients’ health and wellbeing. This type of program is still popular today, and now, many art-in-hospitals programs have blossomed into extensive networks of artists, art organizations, and hospitals. National networks such as Paintings in Hospitals and Scotland’s Art in Healthcare are thriving, and many other programs exist on a smaller scale, such as Oakwood Arts for the Spirit in Michigan. These early programs focused on improving the healthcare environment rather than giving patients opportunities to create art themselves. In the next few decades, more participatory arts and healthcare programs were created in a variety of disciplines, such as Dance Exchange’s Metlife Foundation Healthy Living Initiative program, founded in 1978.

Beginning in the 1990s, arts and healthcare partnerships have become increasingly common. Notable organizations include Dance for PD, a partnership between the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinsons Group which has spread to over 100 communities, and Concerts in Care, which brings live music to residential care facilities across Canada. Over several decades, the concept of using the arts in healthcare has gained broad currency, as evidenced by numerous articles in mainstream medical journals and popular science periodicals (for example, this study showing that music can ease chronic pain and depression). It has also captured the attention of national policymakers.

The principle of network effects applies here; the more people who participate in a network, the more benefit users get from it. In the case of arts and healthcare partnerships it isn’t the number of people participating that makes the difference, but the number of organizations, and the people are still the ones benefiting. However, there is still a parallel. The more points of access there are for the users, with multiple healthcare organizations and multiple arts organizations participating, the more likely users are to find the program in the first place and find a part of the program that addresses their needs. Presumably, the network also creates opportunities for networking in the sense of making professional contacts, and new collaborations arising out of existing partnerships. The main drawback of having a network is that more people contributing ideas also means a more complex and often less efficient system of implementing them. For networks of organizational partnerships, having clarity and consensus around the group goals for working together as a whole can help to mitigate this drawback.

The Power of Networks

In our highly networked world, partnerships between three or more players have a lot going for them. A number of arts in healthcare programs consider their network of partnerships fundamental to what they do. For example, Shands Arts in Medicine, the hospital described in the introduction, says on its website, “An essential component of [our] mission is to create collaborations with other hospital departments, community arts organizations and hospitals around the world. These collaborations spark projects that move the message of art and wellness to a broader audience.”

A Network of Skills and Specialties

While many thriving arts in healthcare programs are organized as partnerships and networks, there is no set template that works best. In many cases, either a dedicated organization facilitates programming by reaching out to both health and arts organizations, or a healthcare organization brings in art by partnering with several different arts groups in their community. It is less common for one arts organization to partner with several health groups, but this approach seems just as effective.

Networks of program offerings, built on combining the strengths of multiple partners, allow arts organizations to leverage a set of related skills and expertise in multiple ways to target a variety of healthcare needs. For example, through a variety of partnerships the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC offers different programs for cancer patients and survivors, military members and veterans, the general public, and health centers. This array of offerings and of recipients would likely be much smaller if the Smith Center limited itself to partnering with one hospital. Since the healthcare landscape is so multifaceted, the corresponding partnerships with the arts must also extend to many specialties.

Moreover, a network of partnerships can help an arts organization reach one particular audience more fully. For example, the New York Museum of Modern Art’s Meet Me at MoMA offers programs at the museum and on-site for organizations that work with individuals with Alzheimer’s. It also has a monthly interactive gallery program for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers to come independently. This combination of services, made possible by the museum’s connections to a variety of health care organizations, enables MoMA’s programming to reach people with Alzheimer’s in a variety of stages, at a variety of levels of independence, and in a variety of family and professional care situations.

Healing in the Community

The diversity networks provide helps organizations capture the best opportunities their community has to offer. For example, Snow City Arts in Chicago offers art classes to hospitalized children. While their teaching artist-in-residence program is the core of their offerings, the organization proclaims, “By working side-by-side with local arts organizations, performance groups, music ensembles, and prominent universities, we help ensure our children are learning from Chicago’s brightest artistic minds.” The program works with hospitals to bring this instruction to children who regularly miss school because of their health needs.

Artist Hein at Work by Virginia Lockett on Flickr

Artist Hein at Work by Virginia Lockett on Flickr

The advantage of networks goes in the other direction, too, helping arts and healing organizations play a more connected, more visible role in the community. In the case of COSACOSA’s Healing Art Project, this connection is intentional: “The Healing Art Project reaffirms the time-honored role of artists in sustaining the health of a community.” The project brings together children and youth of a variety of health experiences – healthy kids, kids with disabilities, and kids living in pediatric healthcare centers – to create collaborative artwork. The artwork is displayed in pediatric healthcare centers, and in some cases is an integral part of the design of these centers. Thus, the program is community-oriented both in the creation and the use of the art.

The visibility advantages of being in a network can also help a program expand and connect to the community of people it serves. For example, Dance for PD, which now has branches from Pasadena to Philadelphia to Pune, India, has been given the opportunity to participate in a number of high-profile events, such as the Parkinson’s Unity Walk in New York, which draws around 10,000 attendees.

Looking Ahead

The funding climate for this type of partnership appears to be growing friendlier as art therapy becomes more mainstream. There are several foundations and grant programs with a specific interest in bringing the arts into healthcare, such as the grants made by the Global Alliance for Arts & Health and the Metlife Foundation’s Healthy Aging grant program. Networks of partnerships have the opportunity to maximize their ability to seek support, since different funding avenues may be available to organizations on different sides of the partnership. However, networks also increase the number of variables involved, and any innovative program, especially one that is tangential to an organization’s mission or primary activities, may turn out to be a hard sell to grantmakers and donors if it appears on the surface to be riskier than traditional offerings. Organizations looking to enter partnerships should bear this in mind.

Arts organizations looking to get involved in an arts and healthcare partnership would do well to research the health and arts landscape in their area, to see whether there is an existing network they can join, and to learn what needs are not yet being met. There are a number of great resources put together by established organizations (see below); another benefit of networks is that they encourage a culture of freely sharing information. However, most of the literature out there on partnerships between the arts and healthcare is focused on providing practical guidance on what seems to work; little has been written on why it works. I am hoping to start the latter conversation with this piece, but the topic deserves more thorough attention than I am able to give it here. I envision studies that involve interviewing the leadership and staff of dozens of organizations across the country, including stand-alone projects, one-on-one partnerships, and networks. Such an effort would hopefully demonstrate whether networks are one successful model that has a lot of advantages and happens to be very popular right now, or whether they are truly the best model. The resulting lessons would equip many more organizations to unite healthcare and the arts.



Arts Policy Library: Good & Plenty

Arts Policy Library Cover

Tyler Cowen presents a powerful idea in his 2006 book (reprised in 2010) Good & Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding: arts policy is a battle between aesthetic and economic reasoning that can be settled by keeping the American system basically as it is. His sweeping argument draws on a deeply-researched history of arts policy in the United States dating back to the late 19th century. All of his historical analysis is developed in the context of a broader argument for a “decentralized” arts policy, which means moving the responsibility of arts policy decision-making from officials to consumers.

Instead of settling the debate over the role of government in the arts, this admirable attempt at finding a central policy philosophy amenable to free-market types and progressives alike leaves considerable room for interpretation and disagreement. His argument supports policy changes to the NEA’s grantmaking scheme that won’t satisfy conservative hopes of dismantlement. Meanwhile, protecting copyright and expanding State Department arts programs is unlikely to meet arts advocates’ demands. Cowen’s argument does, though, introduce a useful concept for policy analysts as they weigh alternatives.


Art Lovers vs. Libertarian Economists

Good & Plenty is written atop the backdrop of a hypothesized political discourse divided into two camps: aesthetics and economics. As Cowen explains it, the art lovers are high-minded, cultured people who want to promote the best art. In their ideal world, the government would support the most important artists such that high culture would be sustained. The libertarian economists believe the best art is that which serves paying customers. In this view, every purchase is a tiny message from society to the artist telling her to keep up the good work. All of these whispers reach meaningful volume when the art pleases society and won’t when society isn’t sufficiently pleased. The libertarian economist’s perspective leaves little room for government intervention.

Cowen maps these two groups onto the two major American political parties. He maintains that the fights over arts policy in the 1980’s and 1990′s—including attempts to close the National Endowment for the Arts and arguments over the definitions of decency, censorship, and artistic liberty—were essentially just arguments between art lovers and libertarian economists. Thus, he believes that finding policy instruments that resolve the philosophical conflict between these two stylized positions would help the US, and potentially Congress, reach a political consensus around a single American arts policy.


Cowen believes strongly in decentralization as a policy tool, and advocates for it throughout the book. The philosophy of decentralization holds that decisions made by individuals are better than those made by a committee or, worse, a political process, so we should place citizens in charge of determining the art they enjoy. The list of policies he suggests under this banner is long.

As an obvious and indicative example of decentralized policy, Cowen pushes for a copyright regime that balances access with rewards for widely enjoyed work. His nuanced argument focuses on the ways that copyright is still working in the internet age and suggests that it be left as is: providing an incentive for artists to create, but not foreclosing future technological innovation (even if it may threaten copyright).

Cowen also advocates for other, less familiar distributed approaches to funding the arts. Citing the historical role of private and corporate giving in support of the arts, he argues that the tax deduction for charitable giving acts as a support mechanism for the arts. He writes extensively about the role of education subsidies and government jobs programs in making the artist’s life possible–providing what he characterizes as low-responsibility jobs that lighten the workload on participating artists so they can advance their craft.

Though he does not advocate direct arts funding, he does make a case for two main ways to make it more decentralized: arbitrary and idiosyncratic selection. Arbitrary selection—choosing whom to fund entirely at random—works, Cowen believes, because it is better than the risk-averse selection process that dominates political or committee funding. Idiosyncratic funding choices, which he defines as making a funding choice as an individual according to one’s own taste even if that individual is supposed to be representing others, serves the same anti-conservative goal. He claims that many of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal arts programs met the arbitrariness standard. The Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) employment programs for visual artists gave a job worth roughly one third of their income to any artist who could provide the WPA with a framed canvas. The Roosevelt administration saw this as an anti-poverty program, paying people who had skills and could stimulate the economy if they had money in their pockets to do something, even if it wasn’t so useful. When the program ended, the WPA burned thousands of the paintings, and even sold some to a plumber as pipe insulation. Cowen claims that this type of arbitrary government spending on the arts helps to remove the decision-making of which artists are the best from the government and give it back to the people.

On the other end of the spectrum, he praises the historical role of nobility in the arts. He argues that when aristocrats followed their tastes and paid for art accordingly, they were unencumbered by the art-by-committee problem. Instead, they were able to make bold and radical artistic decisions that forecasted landmark innovation. He explains that this approach could be replicated in the US by removing the political burdens on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Removing the NEA’s dependence on the annual appropriations process could free the agency to make more radical decisions. He draws a historical analogue from the aristocratic funding of the arts to the American policy of providing tax subsidies to wealthy folks who make donations to arts institutions.

All of these approaches give us a picture of the patchwork American arts policy from the twentieth century to today. The common thread Cowen identifies is some degree of decentralization, whether it be a laissez-faire, property rights-based approach (as he would prefer) or a more muscular intervention like that of Roosevelt’s WPA. Cowen does not argue strongly for any single adjustment like changing the funding structure of NEA or increasing federal arts education spending. He advocates instead for us to keep doing what we’re doing: promoting the best art with decentralized funding mechanisms.


Cowen’s case for a breakdown between art lovers and libertarian economists, who I will call aestheticists and econs for short, seems plausible. It is not uncommon in DC to see two warring parties duke it out over a fundamental philosophical difference. But is that what is happening in the arts? Certainly there are people who believe in sustaining high culture. Many of these groups receive a small but significant portion of their annual budgets from the NEA, and they lobby for more NEA spending. On the other side, there are many libertarian and conservative economists, like those at George Mason University where Cowen teaches, who find government spending counter-productive and potentially destructive when it interferes with private market mechanisms for providing products and services. Cowen likely spoke with many people in each of these camps, and did some extrapolation to arrive at the archetypal aestheticist and econ. Individual advocates on either side may not have arguments as pure and consistent as those Cowen attributes to them, but his simplifications seem reasonable.

If these were the only two perspectives in Washington, his argument would have a sound footing. He dissects more than a century of American arts policy, explaining along the way where it succeeded and failed from the aestheticist’s and econ’s points of view. His case that decentralization works for both sides is backed up by a thoughtful blend of historical and philosophical analysis.

But there’s a problem: there are a lot more than two sides in this fight. Cowen provides hardly any evidence that conservative congressional arguments against the NEA are based on a preference for market capitalism. In the late 80′s and early 90′s, incidents like those involving Robert Mapplethorpe and Karen Finley centered on content at least as much as the means of financing. Similarly, many conservatives are today seeking ways to legislate against violence in popular video games and films, using Quentin Tarantino as a scapegoat. This suggests that many conservatives probably don’t condition their support of particular arts policies solely on free-market principles. Instead, their ideal policy would rein in government financing of the arts without removing their political leverage to define what content is appropriate and what is not.

The corresponding aestheticist model has the same problem. The progressive arguments for government spending on the arts have not only been about the importance of beauty or intrinsic value of art. Instead, they have also focused on the positive role of government in society, the potential for arts as a driver of economic development, and the importance to democracy of giving everyone a voice. Many progressives see the benefits produced by the arts as reason enough for the government to support them.

Finding a point of resolution between the arguments of aestheticists and econs has value—it creates frameworks for thoughtful advocates from the purists in each camp to find common cause—but it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. Most people have deeper motivations behind their support (or lack of support) for the arts, whether cultural, moral, or politically strategic. There is also a growing body of literature in the field of psychology that suggests we don’t hear—and sometimes can’t even understand—alternative views or evidence against our position, making it compromise even less likely. This appears to be happening in debates about the arts. Framing the argument as he does allows Cowen to sidestep a lot of the complications that are really at the center of why these political debates persist. If only those who are really pure aestheticists or pure econs are moved by a proposed reconciliation, the political movement built on that message is likely to fail.

For a recent analogy, consider the politics over health care reform: a bill modeled on legislation proposed by a leading conservative think tank and enacted by a popular Republican governor was not supported by even a single Republican in the House of Representatives or the Senate. Many of the resistors explained that they were voting against a government takeover of health care or an invasion of government into the free market. The motivations underlying all of these arguments came from a fundamental distrust of government, not from a place of trying to build a health care reform bill that found a compromise between government-free and government-run.

Similarly, when President Obama was Senator Obama, he voted against a bill that would raise the debt ceiling. The outrage his White House has displayed during the debates over the debt ceiling since 2011 make clear what the debt ceiling is really about: flexing political muscle and signaling approval or disapproval of the current direction of policy.

I believe Cowen’s case that arguments over arts policy are really about creating the best environment for the arts to thrive is misguided. As in the health care and debt ceiling debates, the reasons for political opinions in the arts are complex, and that complexity matters if solutions to divisive issues are to be found.


Though I am not convinced decentralization is a politically feasible solution to the culture wars, its potential as a policy mechanism in the arts is still worth considering. Decentralization’s strength comes from a single argument: people know what they like better than the government. This idea, which is deeply Hayekian (see “The Use of Knowledge in Society”), is compelling because it is almost undeniably true. Paul Ryan and I have very different tastes in music; I wouldn’t want him to be budgeting the money musicians receive.

Hiding in this argument is a hard-to-solve conundrum: what if artists are not responsive to demand? When I was in music school, we all talked about wanting to make a living, and many of us took classes to that end, but most of us bought into the “starving artist” picture of our life. Most artists make art because they love it, not for the money. The argument that individuals know better than the government is used to support the market mechanism and invoke a market logic, suggesting that those who receive money will keep on working at their craft, while those who don’t will quit. In the arts, this mechanism seems to be broken, with people scraping by just to be able to do what they love rather than quitting and putting their efforts into something at which they could make more money.

The above is just one of the problems with a broad, uncritical application of decentralization to all arts policy dilemmas. However, Cowen’s decentralization concept can be a useful tool for systematizing the thinking policy-makers use as they consider ways to improve proposed interventions and look for potential unintended consequences. It also points to a few seemingly peripheral policy items for which arts advocates should be campaigning. Among the most politically salient are:

  1. Keeping the academy funded. Ivory towers don’t have a great reputation in many Washington, DC circles, but they are an important tool for keeping artists employed. According to Cowen, many great artists depend on the government-subsidized open intellectual environment to create their best work, and this impact should be taken into account before cutting funding to colleges and universities.
  2. Closing down the Internet will not win the copyright war. Artists use the Internet as a critical tool for artistic innovation and distribution. Though copyright and new technology have differential effects across artistic disciplines, art is broadly enhanced by the freedom technology provides. Copyright is not a moral right, it is a legal construction, and Congress should avoid legislating it as the former.
  3. Maintaining the charitable giving deduction. Cowen makes a good case for why the charitable giving deduction, despite its drawbacks, is an important tool for funding the arts. Though many of the individuals who are taking the deduction likely have mundane, risk-averse artistic interests, his bet that enough idiosyncratic individuals are takings risks and funding innovative new projects seems like a good one to me.

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The Artistic Dividend – condensed version

(For the unabridged edition of this analysis, please read Arts Policy Library: The Artistic Dividend.)

Ann Markusen and David King’s 2003 paper “The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development” aims to reveal what economists typically miss when they measure the impact of the arts sector on regional economies.


Approach and Methodology

“The Artistic Dividend” presents the arts’ contribution to a regional economy through an occupational lens. Markusen and King conducted two focus groups with arts opinion-makers and interviewed 22 artists in the Twin Cities. Having determined using Census data that artists are differently distributed in different regions, the authors used the data from their interviews to probe what causes artists’ regional preferences.

Components of the Artistic Dividend

Markusen and King hypothesize that regional economies get an “artistic dividend” from a high artist population because artists:

  • improve the design, production, and marketing of products and services in non-arts businesses when they do contract work for them, and by being active consumers
  • help firms recruit employees by contributing to the quality of life in a region
  • export their work out of their region
  • purchase local supplies and services.

Artists’ Regional Preferences and How They Might Be Nurtured

“The Artistic Dividend” uses US Census data to show that artists concentrate in some regions more than others. Based on their interviews, Markusen and King posit that a region could increase its artistic dividend by supporting these factors:

  • opportunities for education
  • formal and informal mutual support networks among artists
  • opportunities to connect their work to other industries
  • artist live/work spaces
  • arts philanthropy that supports individuals as well as institutions
  • regional amenities such as affordability, good neighborhoods, and cultural life


Overall, “The Artistic Dividend” makes an intriguing argument, but its conclusions are preliminary because of its modest scope and reliance on limited empirical evidence. One of the major issues with “The Artistic Dividend” is that it makes broadly generalizing recommendations based on its small sample size for data (22 interviewees, only four of whom are ever directly cited). It also assumes that artists’ economic actions have a substantial economic effect, but uses the presence of a concentration of artists in a region as a stand-in for the presence of the effect, without attempting to measure it. One way to test this effect would have been to interview non-arts business owners in the region as well as artists; another would have been to compare the artist population data with regional prosperity, as Richard Florida did. By claiming that they cannot measure the artistic dividend even though it is central to their arguments and recommendations, Markusen and King leave themselves open to the speculation that the artistic dividend is not large enough to justify their recommendation that regions invest in encouraging it.

The Artistic Dividend Revisited

Markusen’s 2004 paper “The Artistic Dividend Revisited,” co-authored with Greg Schrock and Martina Cameron, updates the census-based analysis of artists’ regional preferences from “The Artistic Dividend.” This version is deeper and more thorough on the regional data, but does not attempt to address the size or causes of the dividend.


“The Artistic Dividend” provides a good frame for the discussion of artists’ economic contributions, but because of its limitations in scope, it is inconclusive – the biggest implication is that more research is needed to test the following ideas:

  • How and how much artists contribute to an economy through their contract work at non-arts firms and their entrepreneurship, and whether there is room for growth.
  • The reasons artists choose particular cities.
  • Similar research on sub-regional, neighborhood, and rural economies.
  • Trade-offs between funding large institutions and funding on the artist level.

Since “The Artistic Dividend” was written before the 2008 recession, fundamentals such as affordable health care may now be more important to artist populations than regional amenities such as parks. Still, as many artists have focused more on freelancing and found new avenues of income in the last several years, looking at artists’ economic participation through an occupational lens remains relevant.


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Arts Policy Library: The Artistic Dividend


(For a shorter edition of this analysis, please read the condensed version.)

Ann Markusen and David King’s 2003 paper “The Artistic Dividend: The Arts’ Hidden Contributions to Regional Development” aims to reveal what economists typically miss when they measure the impact of the arts sector on regional economies. The authors describe the artistic dividend as the multifaceted economic benefits of the arts when seen through an occupational approach: a look at the ways artists, rather than institutions, feed regional economies. Using the Twin Cities region as a case study, they argue that artists create a dividend when they export their work out of the region and then spend their earnings locally, when they buy supplies and hire supporting staff, and even when they do projects for non-arts firms. Markusen and King demonstrate that artists have preferences about the regions where they live, and distill their conversations with artists into a set of recommendations for how a region can improve its attractiveness to artists. “The Artistic Dividend” is notable as the first publication of the Arts Economy Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Project on Regional and Industrial Economics. Though it was noncommissioned, conducted without external funding, and accordingly small in scale, it is arguably Ann Markusen’s best-known work on the arts economy.


Approach and Methodology

“The Artistic Dividend” presents the arts’ contribution to a regional economy through an occupational lens. Markusen and King used the Twin Cities as a case study to explore the ways artists contribute to a regional economy. They conducted two focus groups with arts “opinion-makers” and 22 interviews with people who make their living at their art to better understand artists’ behavior, preferences, and economic effects on their region. Interviewees were contacted through a web portal for Minnesota artists or the recommendation of other individuals; they were chosen to represent a wide range of types of art but were not intended to be a representative sample of artists in the region. To establish that artists choose some regions of the country over others, Markusen and King compared artist populations between regions using Census data on size and growth rates of artistic occupations and on artistic concentrations in selected metro areas. Having determined that artists are differently distributed in different regions, the authors used the data from their interviews to probe what causes artists’ regional preferences.

Components of the Artistic Dividend

Markusen and King argue that the arts’ contributions to a regional economy are much richer than conventional research methods, such as measuring the tourism draw of a large arts institution, make them appear. Conventional, institution-centric methods overlook the contributions of artists who primarily work independently or in small organizations, and focus on a narrow set of economic benefits, such as money spent by audiences at area restaurants. By using an occupational approach, Markusen and King highlight what they call the “artistic dividend”: the varied ways in which the arts contribute to a region’s economy. They hypothesize that a high population of artists in a region increases the productivity and earnings in the regional economy, and attribute this to the following causes:

  • artists directly improve the design, production, and marketing of products and services in non-arts businesses when they do contract work for them
  • artists motivate firms to create better products by their active input as consumers
  • artists help firms recruit employees by contributing to the quality of life in a region
  • artists generate income by exporting their work out of their region
  • artists stimulate the local economy through their purchases of supplies and services.

The more obvious forms of the artistic dividend are artists’ purchases of materials and services, and sales of their work. Markusen and King list a plethora of ways the artists they interviewed patronize local businesses and employ local talent: for example, “many act like small businesses, hiring others” for support work, and “they patronize suppliers of materials, agents, teachers, and tutors.” Additionally, even in regions where the performing arts do not attract many non-local audience members, other types of artists, such as writers and visual artists, export their work from the region and contribute to their local economic base.

Markusen and King posit an additional economic impact when artists sell their services to non-arts businesses, using their writing, video, visual arts, or other skills to enhance productivity and profits, and when artists as consumers create demand for innovative products. “The presence of a large, diverse pool of artistic talent in a region enables businesses in the region to design their products better, enhance working conditions and employee morale, and market their output more successfully.” Several of the artists interviewed described successful relationships they have forged with non-arts firms.

Artists Have Regional Preferences

“The Artistic Dividend” shows artists concentrate in some regions more than others. Using data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series based on the 1980 and 1990 US Census, Markusen and King compiled the size and growth rates of artistic occupations (using the categories for full-time artists, musicians, actors and directors, painters, photographers, and dancers) in eleven cities. They then compared artistic concentrations for those cities, using a location quotient for artists – the ratio of artists in a local economy to artists in the national economy.

This method revealed that the fastest growing or biggest cities do not necessarily have the biggest artist populations, and different types of artists are concentrated in different cities. Markusen and King theorize that smaller cities that have high populations of one type of artist attracted that population in part because of a major school or other institution. Based on their focus groups and interviews, they highlight factors such as opportunities for education, mutual support networks among artists, opportunities to connect their work to other industries, lower cost of living, and higher quality of life as important components of a region’s appeal to artists.

Nurturing the Artistic Dividend

“Artistic activity as a significant contributor to the regional economy needs nurturing,” Markusen and King write. “In comparison to the very modest amounts they devote to the arts, state and local governments pour hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown revitalizations, new plant attraction and even big box retail developments in the suburbs.” The paper argues that redirecting some money towards attracting, nurturing, and retaining artists would allow the artistic dividend in a region to flourish.

The authors recommend that arts funders, governments, businesses, and artists’ organizations focus on attracting and supporting artists as workers. This includes supporting dedicated artist live/work spaces, but also encouraging amenities that are not specific to artists, such as a region’s affordability, vibrant neighborhoods, and cultural life. Markusen and King call arts-supporting philanthropic organizations and arts establishments a “welcome mat” for a region, indicating to artists that they are likely to find a friendly environment there. They conclude from their interviews that a thriving network of formal and informal artist organizations is as important as big establishments to retaining artists, helping artists find venues to sell their work and hone their artistic and business skills, and providing other resources. Their recommendations are accompanied by anecdotes from their interviewees describing ways in which regional features have helped them succeed.

Art Sale by Jeff_Werner on Flickr

Art Sale by Jeff_Werner on Flickr


Overall, “The Artistic Dividend” makes an intriguing argument that using an occupational approach to look at the arts’ role in regional development reveals many contributions that are invisible with methodologies that focus on the arts industry or arts establishments. Its conclusions about improving a region’s attractiveness to artists and thus its economic success are preliminary, however, because of its modest scope and reliance on limited empirical evidence. “The Artistic Dividend” is promising as a quantitative and descriptive look at artist concentrations in major American cities, as well as a small-scale exploration of artists’ lives, careers, and relationship to place within a single metropolitan region. It would also be provocative as an opinion piece on the value of using an occupational lens to measure artists’ contributions to a regional economy, but it is not presented as an opinion piece. Instead, the authors attempt to use the data from their interviews and focus groups and (by implication) the data on artist concentrations to demonstrate the value of an occupational lens for this purpose, and make policy recommendations on the assumption that the value has been demonstrated. In this area, the paper falls short, raising a lot of interesting questions without enough supporting evidence to justify its recommendations.

To a large extent, Markusen and King are upfront about “The Artistic Dividend”’s limitations. For example, the study excludes the effects of part-time and unpaid artists on the economy, two groups which make up a large portion of the total number of artists in a region. It focuses on metropolitan regions, and the Twin Cities in particular, to the exclusion of examining arts dividends in small towns.

However, there are several key weaknesses in the paper’s construction that go unacknowledged. The major quantitative source of information in “The Artistic Dividend,” the analysis of artist concentrations, cannot tell us anything about whether the artistic dividend exists or how big it is because the authors use those concentrations as evidence of the artistic dividend itself rather than as a lever for measuring its relationship to regional prosperity. This leaves the job of demonstrating the dividend to the nonscientific sample of 22 interviewees in a single region, which is a very small base of evidence from which to draw sweeping policy conclusions.

Similar leaps of logic occur in the authors’ analysis of the nature of the dividend. For example, profiled artist Vara Kamin has written audio and film scripts for a medical technology company, an example of the artistic dividend in action. The authors of the study assume an artist like Kamin produces more valuable results than a non-specialist from within the firm: “artists often sell their work or services to other firms and organizations in the region, helping to make them more productive by enhancing the quality and design of their products or enhancing the work and customer environments.” While such an outcome certainly seems possible, the claim is neither made explicit nor demonstrated or supported with evidence in the paper.

Markusen and King go on to suggest that we could see growth in artists like Vara Kamin selling their skills to non-arts firms, which makes sense if both artists and companies really embrace the creative possibilities in their collaborations. However, as countless artists’ rants and anecdotes published as blog posts or interviews reveal, many artists do not consider such gigs to be their “real” work. The authors note from their interviews that “some artists express disdain for commercial uses of their art… or fear this would damage their status as fine artists.” Yet they continue to express optimism that this is a part of the dividend which could blossom with some encouragement.

The seams between the opinion, census analysis, and anecdotal elements of “The Artistic Dividend” become particularly problematic when the paper makes far-reaching recommendations based on earlier generalizations. For example, the authors propose that a region can attract and retain artists to boost the artistic dividend. In the section analyzing census data on concentrations of artists by profession in various metro areas, the authors note, “each metro has stylized itself in some fashion as a nurturing ground for certain arts and as a destination for artists in that field.” The idea of a city styling itself for certain professions makes the actions sound deliberate on someone’s part. There is a big logical leap between the idea that artists cluster in certain regions and the idea that those regions are deliberately cultivating the presence of specific artistic professions over others. Markusen and King later recommend that cities deliberately cultivate artists, and this section implies it has been demonstrated to be possible.

The authors assert that “it is impossible to directly measure a region’s full artistic dividend.” While it is true that measuring the economy is an inexact science and a “full” accounting may be an unreasonable goal, the authors’ hypothesis that “the more diverse and sophisticated and sizable the pool of artists in a region, the higher the quality of [their] services with associated positive impacts on firms’ bottom lines” is certainly measurable. For example, comparing their data on regional artist populations to measures of regional prosperity, as Richard Florida did, could have provided a fuller picture of whether the artistic dividend has any noticeable effects. Alternatively, as mentioned in the study’s conclusion, including non-arts business owners who do and do not hire artists in the focus groups and interviews could have bolstered the case for the artistic dividend. Unfortunately, by declining to attempt a measurement of the artistic dividend, the meaningful existence of which is the crux of their arguments and recommendations, Markusen and King leave their argument open to the speculation that the dividend is not in fact large enough to justify their recommendation that regions invest in encouraging it.

Moreover, the paper leaves open the question of whether the artistic dividend is distinct from that of other fields when using an occupational approach. While the authors acknowledge in the conclusion that they did not compare the arts to other occupations, it is a surprising omission considering how central the arts’ net value to regional economies is to the paper’s argument, and even more so because Ann Markusen had not specialized in the arts until this study. The only other field explicitly mentioned by comparison is professional sports. The way in which the authors define artistic occupations is somewhat curious as well: they argue that exports of artistic products out of the region are a component of the dividend, but omit filmmakers; they use an artist’s successful venture selling fonts he designed as an example of artistic entrepreneurship even though they omit graphic designers on the grounds that they are more likely to be employed full-time. It is not clear why the lines are drawn where they are, and what unique economic contribution is made by the artists they do include relative to other occupations.

Ultimately, Markusen and King aim to demonstrate that an artistic dividend exists and that it is worth exploring in further research. Artists are indeed economic actors in that they buy supplies, hire services, and do arts work for non-arts firms. Through the results of their focus groups and interviews, the authors identify the building blocks they believe form an artistic dividend in their case study region, the Twin Cities. However, to persuasively argue that cities, philanthropists, and others should make changes to their practice in service of increasing the artistic dividend, the authors would need be able to measure the dividend itself and show that it has some significant effect on the regional economy.

The Artistic Dividend Revisited

Markusen’s 2004 paper “The Artistic Dividend Revisited,” co-authored with Greg Schrock and Martina Cameron, updates the Census-based analysis of artists’ regional preferences from “The Artistic Dividend,” adding a comparison with architects and designers, and examines the pull of employers on artistic concentrations using advertising as a case study. “Revisited” goes into more depth using 1980, 1990, and 2000 PUMS Census data. It does a better job contextualizing the claims about what makes a region appealing to artists within the landscape of existing research than “The Artistic Dividend” does. It does not make the implication that the artistic dividend is necessarily a large part of regional economies, which is where “The Artistic Dividend” began to overreach. Instead, Markusen, Schrock, and Cameron provide a deeper, more thorough version of the original paper’s strongest portion, arriving at many of the same conclusions: artists tend to be footloose, the concentration of artists in a city is not a function of the city’s size or growth, and cities tend to be associated with a few types of artist.


“The Artistic Dividend” provides a good frame for the discussion of artists’ economic contributions. However, the constraints on the scope of research result in limited evidence to support the paper’s claims about how exactly artists contribute to the economy, and what it takes to attract and nurture them. Not surprisingly, then, “The Artistic Dividend” concludes with a call for more research. The authors suggest documenting “the significance of and delivery mechanisms for the artistic dividend,” how and how much artistic entrepreneurship contributes to a region’s economic base, and the reasons artists choose to live in particular cities. They recommend similar research on the artistic dividend in sub-regional and neighborhood economies (I would add rural regions to this list). The authors see a pressing need for thorough evaluations of the trade-offs between funding large arts institutions and funding on the artist level, and between funding the arts and other economic development strategies.

In the past decade, discussion of the occupational approach to looking at the economy has become increasingly common, although there has yet to be a good comparison between the creative economy and other occupational economies using this lens. In “Crossover: How Artists Build Careers Across Commercial, Nonprofit, and Community Work,” (2006) Markusen et al. surveyed artists in Los Angeles and the Bay Area and found that a high number of working artists earn income from multiple sectors. However, since work for non-arts firms and direct sales of art to consumers are both counted in the commercial sector, the findings in “Crossover” do not help us understand how these two pieces operate as separate avenues for artists to participate in the economy, as they are treated in “The Artistic Dividend.” Markusen’s “Defining the Cultural Economy: Industry and Occupation Approaches” (2008) described the differences in definitions of the cultural economy, including whether to look at part-time workers and which professions make up the cultural sector. However, the literature on the creative economy that uses similar definitions and parameters to Markusen and King’s artistic dividend is still heavy on analyzing methodology and theory. It is light on gathering and analyzing data about how the artistic dividend compares to the economic effects of other occupations, how large existing regional artistic dividends are, and what really works to stimulate the artistic dividend within a region.

It is important to consider that “The Artistic Dividend” was written before the 2008 recession. The recession changed the game in some areas of regional development and older assumptions must be questioned, like the assumption that job growth lessens poverty and inequality in a region. These changes suggest that greater access to affordable health care and other fundamentals may now be more important to artist populations than regional amenities such as parks. Markusen has pointed out that artists don’t fit in either traditional micro-economist or macro-economist arguments about how government spending in recessions work, because they are likely to spend new money rapidly and in the local economy.

I would also be interested to learn about the effect of the crowdfunding movement on artists’ attachment to their regions and on their ability to export out of their regions. Projects funded on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and similar sites are allowing artists to tap into new markets (across the country and the world) and a greater ability to fund their work without relying on local institutional funding sources, but for the most part, the size of the impact remains to be analyzed.

While “The Artistic Dividend” was only a start, the broader question of the role the creative economy has in the larger economy is a valuable one. Changes such as the recession and crowdfunding have encouraged many artists to try to make it on their own, whether that means relying more heavily on freelancing or exploring unconventional avenues of funding. Looking at artists’ economic participation through an occupational approach, then, continues to be highly relevant.

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Around the horn: Big Brother edition


  • A lot of people are talking about the news that Detroit’s emergency fiscal manager is exploring whether the city-owned art on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts (which I visited for the first time just a few weeks ago) can be considered an asset in the event of a municipal bankruptcy. I will be shocked if anything like this actually happens, but in the meantime it’s provoking some rare discussion of deaccessioning in mainstream media space. See Tegan Kehoe’s recent piece on Createquity for more on the ethics and debate around deaccessioning.
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  • The NEA Art Works blog has a nice interview with Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.


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  • Good rule of thumb for aspiring grad students (especially in the humanities): the more specialized your degree, the more useless it is. Sadly, specialization seems to be the prevailing trend. The University of Nottingham is blazing the trail of single-genre music studies with a two-year course in heavy metal studies. By the way, a study from 2004 indicates a negative correlation between a graduate degree and earnings for jazz players.
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