SIAP had become interested in the role of the arts and culture in Philadelphia's immigrant communities for a number of reasons. Since 1996, we had been interested in the role of ethnic diversity in stimulating cultural engagement, and immigration was clearly one of the generators of increased diversity. Our work on Culture and Community Revitalization had convinced us that immigration was a key element of the "new urban reality" that was changing the context within which the arts and culture operated. Finally, we played a role in the Philadelphia Migration Project—funded by the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Urban Research—which began conducting seminars on the topic and developing a database in 2005. These various stands came together when Mark Stern attended a conference on immigrant arts at Princeton in June 2006. As a result of that conference, we wrote a paper--co-authored with Domenic Vitiello--that appeared in Art in the Lives of Immigrant Communities in the United States, edited by Paul DiMaggio and Patricia Fernandez-Kelly.
In 2010, we led an investigation of the role that nonprofit arts and culture play in Philadelphia's migrant communities—that is, Puerto Rican and foreign-born residents and their families, including children born in the U.S. Findings are based on a pilot study conducted in collaboration with the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation with support by the William Penn Foundation.
The study centered on the concept of arts-based social inclusion—the idea that a set of artists and cultural organizations are consciously using the arts as a way to improve the life circumstances of new Philadelphians and integrate them into community life. The findings suggest that the concept is grounded—both as a practice strategy and a policy dilemma. The key question is, as posed by an interviewee: "How can migrants both retain their identity and enter the larger society? How can we use the arts to do that?"