Dynamics of Culture—2003-2005

Document Type

Working Paper




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.


SIAP’s small-area estimates of 2004 and 1996 cultural participation were derived from administrative data provided by the Philadelphia area cultural community. The appendix lists the names of organizations represented in year of study.

Laura Burnham, executive director of the Abington Art Center and member of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (GPCA) board of directors, was instrumental in gathering 2004 participation data from individual organizations and through GPCA's Philadelphia Cultural List Cooperative.

SIAP's Dynamics of Culture research was undertaken from 2003 to 2005 with support by the Rockefeller Foundation.



Date Posted: 18 May 2017