Cultural Participation and Communities: The Role of Individual and Neighborhood Effects

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Culture Builds Community
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Arts and Humanities
Civic and Community Engagement
Social Policy
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A challenge facing cultural policy studies has been to define an intellectual framework for understanding the significance of the arts in American society. Not surprisingly, in a nation as wedded to individualism as the U.S., the bulk of work has looked at the individual as the unit of analysis. Whether economic impact, arts education, or youth development--the total impact of the arts is viewed as the sum of many individual impacts. This individual bias is out of step with trends in the social sciences. Sociologists have devoted increased attention to the role of context—communities and networks—in influencing social phenomena. Poverty researchers, like William Julius Wilson, examine the role of social and spatial isolation on the problems of the poor. Robert Putnam argues that social networks are the critical mechanism through which social capital is developed. Other scholars, including Robert Sampson and Felton Earls, suggest that “collective efficacy”—whereby neighborhoods are transformed through development of social networks—is the critical element in understanding child outcomes ranging from physical health to cognitive development. The study of public participation in the arts is a perfect example of the focus on individuals to the exclusion of the social context. Surveys of public participation in the arts (SPPA), commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts since 1982, reinforce the individualistic bias and lack ecological information that would enable analysis of neighborhood effects. This paper seeks to right this balance. Using an enhanced version of the 1997 SPPA provided by NEA, it links information on individual respondents to information about the zip code in which the person lived. Using four American metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco—the paper finds neighborhood effects as strong as individual level variables in influencing frequency of cultural participation in eight types of cultural activities—museums, opera, jazz, classical music, ballet, other dance, plays, and musicals or music theater.

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Culture Builds Community
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This paper was prepared for the 26th annual conference on Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts (STP&A) on the topic of “Arts, Culture, and Policy: Prospects for the 21st Century.” Co-sponsored by Americans for the Arts and the Center for Art and Culture, the symposium took place in Washington D.C. from October 12-15, 2000. SIAP's Culture Builds Community inquiry was undertaken from 1996 to 2001 with support by the William Penn Foundation.
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