Arts and Culture Indicators in Community Building Project: Main Concepts and Current Activity

Report by Maria-Rosario Jackson, Ph.D.

Urban Institute   (NNIP Coordinator)

Reconnaissance efforts to identify and evaluate arts and culture data revealed that, generally, existing data have very limited utility for the development of neighborhood indicators, especially if they are to be relevant to inner city communities.  There are two main reasons for this.  First, mainstream definitions of art and culture (and cultural institutions), upon which most data collection practices are based, are narrow and cannot adequately capture the presence or ways in which art and culture are understood and valued in many neighborhoods.  Second, the development of any indicators necessarily relies on theories, or understandings that link whatever is measured to some other outcome that society cares about.  (For example, a change in the rate of robberies is one of many indicators of public safety.)  However, generally, existing arts and culture data collection practices have been focused on the health of arts organizations and do not seem to be anchored in any theories about the societal impacts of the arts.  There is strong sentiment, among people who are supporters of the arts, that the arts are valuable.  Nevertheless, with the exception of research on the impact of the arts on school performance and economic development, there is very little empirical research that clearly links forms of cultural participation with other specific desirable social outcomes, particularly at the neighborhood level. 

In response to the limitations of existing data the project initially focused on the development of concepts and tools that begin to address both limiting definitions of art and culture, as well as the dearth of theory about their societal value.