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’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
    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
    Crane Arts: Financing Artistsâ Workspaces
    (2007-08-01) The Reinvestment Fund; Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP)

    This brief tells the story of Crane Arts, the conversion of Crane Plumbing Companyâ s 1905 factory and warehouse in Philadelphia's Old Kensington, to affordable artist studio and gallery space. In spring 2004 two artists and a developer--Crane Arts LLCâ purchased the property and began the challenge of rehabilitation of a century-old factory in a former manufacturing district. Along the way, they heard about TRFâ s lending activities, including commercial real estate in urban neighborhoods. The Crane Arts project was a perfect fit for TRF, which views the arts as critical to the health of a community and invests in projects that have the potential to catalyze revitalization in Philadelphia neighborhoods. The success of Crane Arts has encouraged TRF to finance other artist centers in Philadelphia.

  • Publication
    “Natural” Cultural Districts: A Three-City Study—Report Summary
    (2013-02-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C
    This summary of the full research report--"Natural" Cultural Districts: A Three-City Study (February 2013)--presents the rationale for the study as well as findings and implications for policy and research. Policy issues noted are: differential ecology of "natural" cultural districts; economic inequality and location advantage; and trends in the development and management of cultural space. Research questions noted are: change in neighborhood cultural ecology over time; new models of cultural production; displacement vs community revitalization; and reconnecting the arts with culture.
  • Publication
    Understanding neighborhood change: An approach to assessing displacement risk among NYC residents
    (2017-10-01) Goldstein, Ira; Dowdall, Emily; Weidig, Colin
    The SIAP research team has sought to develop methods to assess the complexity of rapid neighborhood change in New York and other U.S. cities. Reinvestment Fund developed an approach to identify locations in New York City where the housing market has changed in a way that residents who have been in a community for several years cannot likely be replaced by people of similar economic means. This paper discusses their method—called Displacement Risk Ratio (DRR)—for identifying areas at risk of displacement (or the inability to replace a resident population over time) based on the gap between housing costs and household income. The paper identifies six patterns in neighborhoods with significant DRR Sales increases as a preliminary typology of change: 1) transitioned from majority black or Hispanic to racially/ethnically diverse; 2) remained predominantly black or Hispanic; 3) remained predominantly white; 4) Asian immigrant neighborhoods; 5) remained diverse; and 6) high residential development areas. The conclusion reviews the potential for use of the DRR method to assess neighborhood change in New York City.
  • 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
    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
    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
    The Dynamics of Cultural Participation: Metropolitan Philadelphia, 1996 - 2004
    (2005-10-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C
    This paper uses data on over 800,000 cultural participants in 1996 and 2004 to examine changes in patterns of cultural participation over these years. The authors discover a consistent pattern in which areas of metropolitan Philadelphia with a large number of cultural organizations are those most likely to have high rates of participation. The connection between institutional presence and cultural engagement was one of SIAP’s first discoveries in the mid-1990s and remains one of its most durable findings. With respect to change over time, there were also unexpected findings. Participation became more tied to both social class and ethnic diversity. The authors explain this seeming paradox in the context of the “new urban reality”—as ethnic groups became more economically differentiated, high-income, ethnically diverse neighborhoods also became more common. These were now the neighborhoods with the highest rates of cultural participation. Another pattern uncovered in the 1990s—what SIAP called “alternative” participation that linked socially diverse audiences to newer, more experimental cultural production—seemed to wither over the decade. By 2004 the former “alternative” cultural organizations had participation patterns identical to those of more “mainstream” organizations, a trend attributed to the increasing market orientation within the cultural sector.
  • Publication
    Culture and Neighborhood Revitalization
    (2008-04-01) Stern, Mark J
    This presentation was prepared for a convening of the Delaware Valley Grantmakers in Philadelphia in April 2008. The purpose of the talk was to draw on SIAP research--in particular, insights from the SIAP/Reinvestment Fund collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation--to shed light on the emerging role of philanthropy in culture-based neighborhood revitalization.