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Social Impact of the Arts Project

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. We began in 1994 to ask questions and develop methods to explore the impact of the arts and culture on community life. 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 opportunities represent an important dimension of social inclusion and community wellbeing. The arts provide a resource that people can use to make sense of the world as it is and to imagine the future. Communities with a vital cultural life also enjoy a variety of “spillover effects,” including stronger community and civic engagement, improvements in public health and social stability, and economic revitalization. SIAP’s mission is to understand and document these connections and the role that public policy and philanthropy can play in encouraging them.

SIAP has long been committed to the concept of linked open data, as both a methodology and a dissemination strategy. Our work is available for public use with full citation requested. Please note that the SIAP Collections in ScholarlyCommons are currently under construction. In the meantime, our reports and documents (except for copyrighted material) are downloadable in PDF format at: http://impact.sp2.upenn.edu/siap/index.html.

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Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City

Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City
Highlights of a two-year research project, February 2017

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The Social Wellbeing of New York City’s Neighborhoods: The Contribution of Culture and the Arts
Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert, March 2017

Since 2011 SIAP has collaborated with Reinvestment Fund, a community development financial institution, to develop a multi-dimensional index of social wellbeing for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. The work is part of an international movement to move beyond economic productivity as the only measure of a society’s welfare and toward a model based on human development and social justice. Our approach differs from previous work in several ways: we identify cultural resources as an intrinsic to social wellbeing; we examine culture’s potential to influence other aspects of wellbeing; and we focus on neighborhood rather than region or nation-state.

SIAP’s research is also part of an international conversation about the value of the arts and moves beyond the debate over the intrinsic v. the instrumental components of cultural value. The question is no longer whether the arts promote social wellbeing. Rather, opportunities for cultural engagement and creative expression are integralto wellbeing. Just as we would never talk about wellbeing without considering health, housing, income, security, or social connections, so too we must see the arts as central “to a life [people] have reason to value.” At the same time, a multi-dimensional tool allows us to assess whether cultural infrastructure contributes to other aspects of social wellbeing and community vitality.

In 2014, building on our work in Philadelphia, SIAP began the Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City project. The work involved development of a 10-dimension social wellbeing framework—that included construction of a cultural asset index—for every neighborhood in the five boroughs. The social wellbeing tool enables a variety of analyses: the distribution of opportunity across the city; identification of areas with concentrated advantage, concentrated disadvantage, as well as “diverse and struggling” neighborhoods with both strengths and challenges; and analysis of the relationship of “neighborhood cultural ecology” to other features of a healthy community.

This report presents the conceptual framework, data and methodology, and findings of the two-year research project conducted between 2014 and 2016. The project was supported by the Surdna Foundation, the New York Cultural Agenda Fund in the New York Community Trust, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Read the report


Browse the Social Impact of the Arts Project Collections:

Culture and Social Wellbeing in New York City

Age and Arts Participation: A Case against Demographic Destiny

Arts-Based Social Inclusion and Immigrant Communities

Arts Resources for Children and Youth in Philadelphia

Civic Engagement and the Arts

Community Partners in Arts Access Evaluation

Communities, Culture, and Capabilities

Culture and Community Revitalization: A Collaboration

CultureBlocks Philadelphia

Culture Builds Community

Dynamics of Culture

The Embeddedness of Community Cultural Institutions: Wall Art in Social Context

Individual Participation and Community Arts Groups: A Quantitative Analysis of Philadelphia

Knight Creative Communities Initiative Evaluation

Measuring the Outcomes of Creative Placemaking

"Natural" Cultural Districts: A Three-City Study

Philadelphia and Camden Cultural Participation Benchmark Project

Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Community Impact Assessment

Re-presenting the City: Arts, Culture, and Diversity in Philadelphia

Other SIAP Publications