Since 2011 SIAP has collaborated with Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, to develop a multi-dimensional index of social wellbeing for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The work is part of an international movement to move beyond economic productivity as the only measure of a society’s welfare and toward a model based on human development and social justice. Our approach differs from previous work in several ways: we identify cultural resources as an intrinsic to social wellbeing; we examine culture’s potential to influence other aspects of wellbeing; and we focus on neighborhood rather than region or nation-state.
SIAP’s research is also part of an international conversation about the value of the arts and moves beyond the debate over the intrinsic v. the instrumental components of cultural value. The question is no longer whether the arts promote social wellbeing. Rather, opportunities for cultural engagement and creative expression are integral to wellbeing. Just as we would never talk about wellbeing without considering health, housing, income, security, or social connections, so too we must see the arts as central “to a life [people] have reason to value.” At the same time, a multi-dimensional tool allows us to assess whether cultural infrastructure contributes to other aspects of social wellbeing and community vitality.
In 2014, building on our work in Philadelphia, SIAP began the Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City project. The work involved development of a 10-dimension social wellbeing framework—that included construction of a cultural asset index—for every neighborhood in the five boroughs. The social wellbeing tool enables a variety of analyses: the distribution of opportunity across the city; identification of areas with concentrated advantage, concentrated disadvantage, as well as “diverse and struggling” neighborhoods with both strengths and challenges; and analysis of the relationship of “neighborhood cultural ecology” to other features of a healthy community.
This report presents the conceptual framework, data and methodology, and findings of the two-year research project conducted between 2014 and 2016. The project was supported by the Surdna Foundation, the New York Cultural Agenda Fund in the New York Community Trust, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Submissions from 2017
The Social Wellbeing of New York City's Neighborhoods: The Contribution of Culture and the Arts, Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert
Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City: Highlights of a Two-Year Research Project, University of Pennsylvania Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) and Reinvestment Fund