Culture Builds Community

Document Type

Working Paper




One of SIAP's goals has been to examine the links that connect arts participation to other form of civic engagement. In previous papers, the team used a variety of perspectives--the location of organizations, levels of community participation, observation of behavior and physical traces, and levels of regional cultural participation--to examine this process. This paper uses a community participation survey conducted in five Philadelphia case study neighborhoods to examine links between community participation, community arts participation, and regional arts participation.

This paper and other SIAP studies have found that the socio-economic status of a neighborhood is a consistent predictor of residents' level of participation. Yet, the paper also suggests that cultural participation is more complex than either the economic model or the cultural capital theory would predict. A neighborhood’s cultural infrastructure is a stronger predictor of participation than either income or education. Moreover, decisions about cultural participation are closely related to engagement in other types of community activities, such as schools, community groups, and social clubs.

Thus neighborhood residents effectively function as connectors between arts and non-arts institutions. The paper documents a strong relationship between neighborhood cultural participation and other forms of community engagement. The fact that residents make connections that remain elusive for organizational leaders suggests an avenue for strengthening institutional networks.


This paper is based on the community participation survey conducted in 1996 and discussed in Social Citizenship and Urban Poverty (SIAP Working Paper #4, Stern and Seifert, Feb 1997). The neighborhoods selected for case study were of two types: multiracial, diverse neighborhoods (Powelton, West Mount Airy, East Mount Airy) and predominantly poor, minority neighborhoods (Mantua-West Powelton, Point Breeze). Thus, the sample population are all residents of the city of Philadelphia and disproportionately African-American

SIAP's Culture Builds Community inquiry was undertaken from 1996 to 2001 with support by the William Penn Foundation.



Date Posted: 18 May 2017