Cultural Participation and Distributive Justice
Urban Studies and Planning
Expanding cultural participation has been an important goal of cultural policy, among both public and private policymakers, over the past half century. In its work with the Urban Institute from 1996 to 2006, the Arts and Culture Indicator Project (ACIP) took a unique approach to the issue in its emphasis on overcoming historically-based exclusion and giving voice to cultural expression by ethnic minorities and poor communities. This paper builds on ACIP’s approach, first, by making explicit the policy question--that is, what are the consequences of cultural expression for distributive justice? The authors then draw on SIAP research in Philadelphia to examine the ways in which different forms of cultural participation connect with indicators of social inequality. They found that much of mainstream cultural expression actually reinforces social inequality. However, two parts of the cultural sector—the “alternative” regional cultural sector and the community cultural sector—show more promise in providing resources for historically disenfranchised groups and marginal neighborhoods. The paper concludes that, if public support of cultural expression is justified on its promotion of social justice, these sectors would likely provide the best opportunities for addressing this goal.