Social Impact of the Arts Project

The Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) is a research group at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Social Policy & Practice, in Philadelphia, PA (USA). We began in 1994 to ask questions and develop methods to explore the impact of the arts and culture on urban communities. Our research focuses on the relationship of the arts to community change with a particular interest in strategies for neighborhood revitalization, social inclusion, and community wellbeing.

Cultural engagement represents an important dimension of community wellbeing by building social connections within groups and across social divides. The arts provide a resource that people can use to make sense of the world as it is, to connect with collective memory, and to imagine the future. Neighborhoods with a vital cultural life also enjoy “spillover effects”—including stronger community and civic engagement; better health, schooling, and personal security; and economic revitalization. SIAP’s mission is to understand and document these connections—what we call community cultural ecology—and the role that public policy and philanthropy can play in encouraging them. To learn more about SIAP’s approach, methods, and research team, go to: About SIAP.

Since start-up in the mid-1990s, SIAP has been committed to open data and open access as both a research methodology and a dissemination strategy. Thanks to ScholarlyCommons, the open access institutional repository at Penn Libraries, SIAP archives—including methods and work-in-progress—are accessible to research, policy, and practice communities across the globe and free to all. We invite visitors to browse the Social Impact of the Arts Project Collections, listed below in reverse chronological order. The link to each SIAP Collection will access reports, working papers, and other materials produced by that project. All documents are downloadable in PDF format for public use with full citation requested. For a listing of additional SIAP publications under copyright, go to: About SIAP.

What's New?

Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City (A SIAP Collection, 2017)

The Social Wellbeing of New York City’s Neighborhoods: The Contribution of Culture and the Arts, Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert (SIAP Report, March 2017). This research report presents the conceptual framework, data and methodology, findings and implications of a three-year study of the relationship of cultural ecology to social wellbeing across New York City neighborhoods. The project was undertaken in collaboration with Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, with support by the Surdna Foundation, the NYC Cultural Agenda Fund in the New York Community Trust, and the University of Pennsylvania.


Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City, SIAP and Reinvestment Fund (Research Brief, February 2017). This research brief provides a summary of the data, methods, and findings documented in the March 2017 report.


Culture’s Contribution to Social Wellbeing & Neighborhood Vitality, SIAP and Reinvestment Fund (Policy Brief, February 2016). This policy brief is a summary of project rationale—why and how to measure social wellbeing—and its potential to guide policy toward more equitable and livable communities.


Social Networks and Inequality in New York City’s Cultural Sector, Mark J. Stern (A SIAP Working Paper, October 2017). This paper presents an analysis of the geography of program sites served by City grant recipients based on a dataset maintained by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and its interaction with the inequality of cultural opportunities within the city.


Understanding neighborhood change: An approach to assessing displacement risk among NYC residents, Ira Goldstein, Emily Dowdall, and Colin Weidig, (Reinvestment Fund, October 2017). Reinvestment Fund has used its displacement risk ratio (DRR) in several cities to gauge the gap between neighborhood residents’ incomes and housing costs. This paper applies the same approach to New York City but also considers its applicability to renter-occupied housing.


Using PUMS to Calculate Geographic Mobility in New York City, Mark J. Stern (A SIAP Working Paper, October 2017). In this paper SIAP uses census data drawn from the annual American Community Survey to identify patterns of geographic mobility common in New York City neighborhoods between 2007 and 2015.


Divergent Paths—Rapid Neighborhood Change and the Cultural Ecosystem, Susan C. Seifert and Mark J. Stern (A SIAP Working Paper, December 2017). This paper considers the impact of rapid neighborhood change on the cultural ecology of Fort Greene and surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods based on qualitative study undertaken during 2016.



Search results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 90
  • Publication
    Culture and Community Revitalization: A Framework for the Emerging Field of Culture-Based Neighborhood Revitalization
    (2011-08-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C
    This summary flyer provides an overview of the publications produced as part of the Culture and Community Revitalization project. The SIAP - Reinvestment Fund collaboration was undertaken from 2006 to 2008 with support by the Rockefeller Foundation.
  • Publication
    “Natural” Cultural Districts and Neighborhood Revitalization
    (2009-06-01) Stern, Mark J
    In this presentation, Stern argues for a policy approach that recognizes creativity as deeply embedded in urban social structure and the importance of diversity (economic, ethnic, and household) to the social production of the arts and culture. Only then can we come up with strategies that stimulate a creative society, not just a creative economy.
  • Publication
    What do the Arts & Culture Contribute to Urban Life?
    (2013-10-25) Stern, Mark J
    For a panel discussion on "Arts, Culture, and Vibrant Cities: Innovative Roles for Arts and Culture in Growing Inner Cities,” Stern’s talk uses Philadelphia research to highlight the sector’s drive to demonstrate economic vs. social benefits of “creative placemaking” and the consequences for disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. The event was part of “Reimagining Cities: Building Resiliency"—A Full-Day Symposium on Challenges Facing American Cities—held at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Center for Politics and Governance, University of Texas at Austin, on Friday, October 25, 2013.
  • Publication
    Cultural Ecology, Neighborhood Vitality, and Social Wellbeing—A Philadelphia Project
    (2013-12-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C
    From 2011 to 2013, SIAP with Reinvestment Fund undertook new research that featured development of multidimensional indexes of social wellbeing for the city of Philadelphia. This report presents the results of that collaboration. Chapter 1 documents construction of a neighborhood-based social wellbeing index for the city. Chapter 2 uses the social wellbeing index to analyze patterns of advantage and disadvantage in Philadelphia neighborhoods. Chapter 3 draws on SIAP's historical data to examine changes in Philadelphia's cultural ecology between 1997 and 2012. The summary highlights how the policy tool helps conceptualize and measure culture as a dimension of social wellbeing as well as a contributor to equitable communities.
  • Publication
    Arts In Place: Philadelphia's Cultural Landscape
    (2005-05-01) Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP)
    To inform the debate over costs vs benefits of arts-based development to neighborhood revitalization, Penn Urban Studies Program chose "arts in place" as the theme of its Third Annual Public Conversation Series 2003-04. This document is a synthesis of the narratives and insights gleaned from the series--eight events with 23 speakers over five months--to share with a wider audience. The report describes the models and theories about how the arts influence development raised in six site-based discussions. Lastly, the report presents themes and issues that cut across Philadelphia's cultural landscape aired during the culminating session and throughout the series.
  • Publication
    Cultural Participation and Distributive Justice
    (2002-07-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C
    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.
  • Publication
    Culture’s Role in Community Revitalization in Philadelphia
    (2003-03-01) Stern, Mark J
    SIAP grew out of the belief that a better understanding of how the arts fit into urban social processes could provide a stronger foundation for policy making beyond a narrow focus on economic development. Its research to date can inform urban policy and community development strategies in several ways: highlight upcoming trends beyond “urban crisis”; measure the impacts of cultural engagement on urban neighborhoods; and document the mechanisms through which cultural sector works in urban communities. Thus the arts and culture are not marginal but rather are at the center of the new urban reality—characterized by a mix of decline and revitalization. Looking forward, SIAP wants to document how cultural engagement—along with other forms of community involvement—fit into an evolving “new civil society.”
  • Publication
    Truly Disadvantaged? An Exploratory Analysis of Nonprofit Organizations in Urban Neighborhoods
    (2004-01-01) Rutherford, Lindsay Taggart
    This paper uses unique data on Philadelphia’s nonprofit organizations compiled from IRS listings, city cultural fund grant applications, telephone directories and newspaper listings in 1997 and 2003 to test Wilson’s (1987) hypothesis that inner-city neighborhoods suffer from a dearth of social institutions. The author integrates these data with demographic information from the 2000 census to explore the size and spatial patterns of Philadelphia’s neighborhood nonprofit sectors. Results indicate that neighborhoods have suffered a net loss of organizations over the past six years, although most neighborhoods still had over 100 institutions per 1000 residents in 2003. Ethnically diverse neighborhoods and neighborhoods with over 40% of residents living in poverty had the largest nonprofit sectors. Finally, neighborhoods with the most institutions were concentrated in the central city. The author confirms an earlier SIAP finding—that poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia are not necessarily institutionally ‘deprived’—and suggests that the literature on concentrated poverty find a way of understanding this pattern.
  • Publication
    "Natural" Cultural Districts and Neighborhood Revitalization
    (2009-06-01) Stern, Mark J
    In this presentation, Stern argues for a policy approach that recognizes creativity as deeply embedded in urban social structure and the importance of diversity (economic, ethnic, and household) to the social production of the arts and culture. Only then can we come up with strategies that stimulate a creative society, not just a creative economy.
  • Publication
    Gauging the Informal Arts Sector Metropolitan Philadelphia, 2004
    (2005-10-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C; Zaman, Mehreen
    The uncertain state of the traditional nonprofit has sparked interest in unincorporated cultural associations to maintain the vitality of the cultural sector. Despite increasing interest in and qualitative study of the role of the unincorporated groups and individuals in cultural production and participation, there are no data that allow assessment of their importance to the overall cultural sector. In this paper, SIAP takes an alternative strategy for estimating the informal arts sector. The authors use a representative sample of artists to ask what proportion of artists’ professional activities takes place in the for-profit, nonprofit, and informal sectors. The analysis is based on a sample of 270 artists in the Philadelphia metropolitan area interviewed during 2004. The team found that a large share of the sample’s professional activities did indeed occur in what might be called the informal cultural sector; and that the importance of this sector varied by discipline, age, and ethnicity of the artist. The informal arts sector is likely to be a major agenda item for cultural research in the years to come. If nothing else, this paper demonstrates that researchers can use quantitative methods to expand our understanding of the informal sector. It also holds out the promise that the research would contribute to a more complex and variegated portrait of informal cultural engagement and its place in the ecology of urban culture.