As promised, here is more on the arts and culture as excerpted from a recent public policy analysis I and two other University of Massachusetts graduate students undertook. They would be Ryan Kidder and Sorin Dan, the latter from Romania. (My apologies again for the formatting issues.) Last week I suggested that economic impacts might not be the strongest argument for cultivating the arts in culture in a community, in general. "David" cited a study regarding the local area, "Customers in these communities are more affluent and better educated than secondary area residents and are likely to be attracted to the arts and cultural activities, quality shopping opportunities, and attractive environment in downtown Northampton." I’m not sure what "secondary area residents" implies, but are the arts and culture more than an economic engine that draws affluent patrons to popular restaurants and galleries? I suppose they could be.

(See for the previous discussion in its entirety.)

According to John Kuo Wei Tchen, inquiry in the humanities and society can help deepen the understanding of how culture affects the quality of public life and policy(Tchen, 2007, p. 27). ‘The struggle for cultural rights and cultural equity is linked to the struggle for political and economic rights and integral to the quest for human rights.’(Tchen, 2007, p. 2). A 2004 RAND study undertook an extensive literature review which categorized the benefits purported in the arts into two main categories: instrumental and intrinsic (Brooks, A. et al., 2004). The report states that the instrumental benefits of the arts include cognitive, attitudinal and behavioral, health, community, and economic (basically things that can be measured more easily) while the intrinsic benefits include those that involve personal experiences and art as a communicative device (things more difficult to quantify) (Brooks, A. et al., 2004).

Moreover, from both instrumental and intrinsic perspectives, Drs. Miringoff and Opdycke found in speaking with people across the country, that the arts and culture represent a vital component of their social well-being (Miringoff, 2005, p. 13). Arts and culture create critical social bonds and webs of affiliation that strengthen the nation, deepen our tolerance, and grace our lives in unique ways (Miringoff, 2005, p. 13). The arts activities they examined in their 2005 survey from crafts and projects in the home, to films, concerts, plays, art shows, museum exhibits, reading, and listening to music–constitute significant building blocks of American life, and they are deeply valued by the nation (Miringoff, 2005, p. 53). Pursued in a variety of ways, these activities reflect the cultural diversity of the nation’s people and serve as a critical indicator of the social health of the nation (Miringoff, 2005, p. 53).

One of their findings was that while people at all income levels place a high value on the arts, those in the lower income brackets are significantly less able to participate (Miringoff, 2005, p. 12). ‘It would benefit our society as a whole if these differences could be reduced, and if greater possibilities for arts participation were opened up to all members of our society.’ (Miringoff, 2005, p. 51). They found that, ‘Americans view arts participation as especially critical for children. Going to events such as plays, concerts, movies, and art shows can reinforce children’s learning and open up their sense of possibilities. Doing creative work of their own can foster children’s personal growth, enhance their self-esteem, improve their dexterity, and help them learn to work with others.’ (Miringoff, 2005, p. 21). Miringoff and Opdycke suggest that, ‘Bridges are built when, through the arts, we gain a new understanding of people whose lives or viewpoints are different from our own. In all these ways, arts participation has the capacity to strengthen our society, helping those who create art and those who participate in it to feel newly connected, to each other and to the world around them.’ (Miringoff, 2005, p. 24). In summing their findings concerning children they conclude that, ‘Arts and culture programs for children create a foundation upon which to build skills, talents, and personal development. Early exposure to the arts can foster interests that enrich people’s entire lives, open career opportunities, encourage social connections, and strengthen the larger society. Given the significance that parents assign to the arts, it is important that programs be maintained and advanced, and that children have a broad variety of opportunities to participate in as many ways as possible. The declines in attendance that we have identified (see key findings below), the significant levels of non-participation, as well as the slight fall in the ratings of school programs, all highlight the need to monitor these trends closely in the future.’ (Miringoff, 2005, p. 43).

Community based arts and culture can, ‘Include a range of pursuits: theater, music, dance, museums and galleries, arts education, electronic media, (and) literary arts.’ (Nowak, 2007, p. 3). One of the key notions that emerged from Miringoff and Opdycke’s national survey was the idea that participation in arts and culture occurs not only through the plays we see, the dance recitals and concerts we attend, and the art shows we view, but also through the creative work we do in our daily lives (Miringoff, 2005, p. 7). ‘Recent research confirms casual observation: (people) are engaging the arts in new ways and different settings. Where cultural participation used to be defined by attendance at formal events, it is now more active and less formal. The heightened sense of design has integrated art more intimately into everyday life from kitchen appliances to websites. Americans have increasingly become ‘omnivores’; they enjoy classical music and reggae, ballet and break-dancing. They also seek more active ways of engaging culture. They enjoy exhibits, but they want to be engaged in the experience as well.’ (Stern M. J., 2007, p. 3).

Stern and Seifert further assert that, ‘The arts are commerce. They revitalize cities not through their bottom-line but through their social role. The arts build ties that bind neighbor-to-neighbor and community-to-community. It is these social networks that translate cultural vitality into economic dynamism. Culture generates many types of social networks. When artists work with eight or nine different organizations during the year as many do, they build networks. When a community arts center partners with a boys’ and girls’ club or an after-school program, it builds networks. When community residents are involved in arts programs as well as churches, civic associations, and book clubs, they build networks.’ (Stern M. J., 2007, p. 1).

‘Community arts and cultural organizations have great potential as intermediaries capable of spanning diverse geographies, social classes, and ethnic groups. They can provide rigorous artistic training, build critical thinking and interpersonal skills and offer avenues for lifelong learning, while also serving as a significant source of employment for artists. Arts and cultural centers and performance spaces are hubs of interaction, drawing people from inside and outside the community.’ (Nowak, 2007, p. 6). In short, cultivating the arts and culture could very well lead to advances in the social and economic lives of community members.

So, how could Northampton’s arts and culture scene be improved? I’ve a few suggestions to offer, for what it’s worth.

The Northampton Arts Council, a city agency, along with the Northampton Center for the Arts, a nonprofit agency, could begin jointly tracking the demographics of those who comprise the local creative economy. (Aside from these organizations, perhaps a volunteer citizens advisory committee for the arts in culture in the city could be formed to take on this new task.) By examining the demographics across the board, from school children to artists to performers to patrons to sponsors, a baseline could be established. For instance, non-randomized survey questionnaires could be administered at events, through direct mail, as well as through registrations for cultural programming and education. Though not necessarily representative of the greater population, this would provide some insights and allow for an ongoing analysis of where the local creative economy is strong and where there is room for improvement.

Also, in addition to the arts relying on the patronage and kindness of the affluent, David previously stated that the Northampton Arts Council awards merit based grants. Perhaps other criteria could begin to be included in the process as well, like the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the grant applicants. If Northampton follows national trends, those at the lower end of the economic scale could likely use some help in gaining access to the arts. Perhaps grants could be written that would allow more children and lower income people to attend showings in town thereby inviting them to join those of better means in enjoying local arts and culture. Maybe a trust fund could be established for that very purpose.

Moreover, Miringoff and Opdycke’s national survey finds that one of the barriers to attending performances or openings is that people prefer not to attend events solo. Perhaps an "arts buddy pool" could be established that offered folks companionship at cultural events. Well, that may be a little far fetched but hey, if we can send bus-loads of people to the casinos in Connecticut, why can’t we create something locally that builds community while mitigating the traditional barriers to participation?

These ideas would need more study, but brainstorming and implementing suggestions like these and others, could benefit the community as a whole socially while lessening the impacts of what some perceive as the gentrification and economic inequality of the creative economy.

Here are the key findings of the 2005 national survey. While not Northampton-centric, they do offer some insight on issues that could be examined more closely on the local level.

Arts, Culture, and the Social Health of the Nation 2005 (Miringoff, 2005)

The Importance of Arts and culture to Americans

" Americans believe that attending arts events helps them to see things from other people’s perspective (78 percent), think more imaginatively (75 percent), and leave their daily lives behind (57 percent).

" Americans also value the arts they do on their own. They rate as highly important in their lives: reading (87 percent), creative work (86 percent), and listening to music (83 percent).

" Americans strongly value the arts for their children (84 percent), and they report that their children value the arts as well. Reading is rated as important to their children’s lives by 82 percent of the parent’s surveyed, creative work by 85 percent, and listening to music by 81 percent. Many adults wish they had gone to more arts events when they were young (66 percent) and had more chances to do creative work of their own (63 percent).

What We DoAdult Participation in Arts and culture

" Participation in the arts is substantial: 92 percent of the people surveyed listen to music at home, 78 percent read books, 74 percent do creative work of their own, 67 percent go to the movies, 55 percent attend live performances and 41 percent go to art shows or museums.

" Nevertheless, participation has declined since 2002 in all six of the arts activities we monitored. The greatest decline was in attendance at live performances, where participation fell by 9 percentage points, and in creative work, which fell by 7 percent.

" Barriers to participation include costs, location, and information, as well as personal issues such as a lack of time, not having someone to go with, and physical or health problems.

What We DoChildren’s Participation in Arts and culture

" Children participate extensively in the arts. They listen to music at home (97 percent), do creative work of their own (94 percent), read books (88 percent), go to the movies (85 percent), attend live performances (70 percent), and go to art shows and museums (61 percent).

" Of the three children’s arts activities we have monitored since 2002, two have declined: attending live performances, by 15 percentage points; and going to art shows and museums, also by 15 percent. Doing creative work of one’s own has shown a slight increase.

" Barriers to children’s participation include too few arts opportunities in school, a lack of information, and insufficient after-school programs. Parents also see the need for hours and locations to be more convenient, costs to be cheaper, and for children to have more free time.

Arts and cultureAcross Income Lines

" One of our most consistent findings, both in 2002 and in our current survey, was that while people at all income levels place a high value on the arts, those in the lower income brackets are significantly less able to participate.

" In comparing adults with incomes under and over $35,000, there were considerably more people in the low-income group who had not participated in the arts during the previous year. The difference between income groups ranged from more than 20 percentage points for art shows, museums, and live performances, to 15 percent for movies. There were smaller but consistent differences for arts activities of one’s own reading, creative work, and music.

" Children’s involvement in the arts also showed substantial differences by family income under and over $35,000. The differences in non-participation ranged from 17 percent for live performances, to 11 percent for art shows and museums, to 7 percent for movies. The gaps were smaller for reading and creative work.