The Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) began as a summer project in 1994. Thanks to a grant from the dean of the Penn School of Social Work, Mark Stern, professor of social welfare and history, was able to organize a team of graduate and undergraduate students to scan for theories and methods about how the arts impact society. The students focused on reviewing the literature on social impact and conducting fieldwork at several mural sites in Philadelphia neighborhoods. The resulting working paper (August 1994) explored the value that community members attached to the murals.

Meanwhile, given the unexpected dearth of data on Philadelphia’s nonprofit cultural sector, Stern and collaborator Susan Seifert began construction of a nonprofit cultural organization database for the five-county region. During the fall of 1994, Stern and Seifert used SIAP’s first version of a Philadelphia nonprofit cultural database and the 1992 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (National Endowment for the Arts) to examine how the presence of cultural resources in a neighborhood influences cultural participation—a topic to which the team would return in later projects.

 

 

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  • Publication
    The Embeddedness of Community Cultural Institutions: Wall Art in Social Context
    (1994-08-01) Stern, Mark J; Amrofel, Laura; Dyer, Gina; Wolk, Alison
    This paper uses the findings of a pilot study of wall art in two Philadelphia neighborhoods to examine how community art is embedded in the lives of individuals, families, and communities. During the summer of 1994, three SIAP research assistants--Laura Amrofel, Gina Abrevaya Dyer, and Alison Wolk--hung out in the neighborhoods around two wall murals (one in South Philadelphia, one in West Philadelphia), talked to residents, and observed the way the spaces around the murals were used. They found that the impact of the murals on their neighborhoods was connected to the demography and ecology of the community, but not in a simple way, and in fact was more complex than current theories of art and society suggest. The authors concluded that the role of a wall mural could not be separated from its specific community context--a phenomenon they described as "embeddedness."
  • Publication
    Individual Participation and Community Arts Groups: A Quantitative Analysis of Philadelphia
    (1994-10-01) Stern, Mark J; Seifert, Susan C
    This paper presents SIAP's first attempt to develop methods to measure the non-economic impact of the arts. The best data available on individual participation--periodic surveys of public participation in the arts by the National Endowment for the Arts--provided a wealth of data on individual behavior and attitude, but the few attempts to link these data to larger social contexts focused on the economics of arts consumption. This paper uses the public participation data for one city--Philadelphia. Information on the arts and cultural behavior of a sample of 600 adults in 1992 was linked with databases on cultural groups in the city to examine the role of community context on arts behavior. The findings were startling. Simple information on the cultural environment in which individuals live was more powerful than traditional socio-economic variables like income and education in predicting participation in the arts. These findings, by challenging the narrow economistic perspectives that have dominated the debate on arts and culture in the city, suggest that we need a broader and more fine-grained appreciation of the role of urban arts and their social impact.