Art and cultural participation at the heart of community life

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


A COMMUNITY'S ART-its creative and cultural expression in the form of music, dance, theater, visual arts, and crafts-embodies its essence and is crucial to its well-being. Through making art-amateur and professional, formal and informal1-communities preserve, invent, and assert their identities; transmit heritage; and comment on their existence. Art and cultural participation contribute to community conditions in education, economic development, civic engagement, and to stewardship of place (Jackson et al. 2003; Jackson and Herranz 2002). Based on years of research,we know that murals, altars, choirs,music bands, ethnic dance troupes, embroidery and quilting groups, drumming circles, theater troupes, parades, and festivals are all examples of what people describe as cultural assets in communities around the United States.These are artistic and creative outlets that are a crucial aspect of quality of life.They are valued for the intrinsic properties of art and contribute to the community's well-being. They are found in a variety of places, including formal cultural presentation venues such as museums and theaters, small and midsize organizations where artists gather to make art and produce events, and in community cultural centers. But they also occur with great frequency, formally and informally, in places and through organizations that are not primarily concerned with the arts, such as schools, churches, parks, community centers, social service organizations, social clubs and benevolent societies, and sometimes businesses and commercial retail establishments. Moreover, arts and non-arts entities often have to work together to make cultural participation possible (Jackson and Herranz 2002). Although arts and cultural participation at the community level are at the heart of community life, many policy makers, urban planners, and arts administrators have not acknowledged the arts as an essential part of a community's core, to the detriment of communities. The range of opportunities for cultural participation needed for a healthy community eludes many of these players. Instead, large cultural institutions concerned primarily with presenting formal professional arts, often with ties to the nonprofit and public sectors, have dominated with their ideas of what constitutes the arts world and the cultural sector. Activity at all artistic skill levels, often in smaller arts and cultural organizations as well as through other public, private, and commercial arts outlets, exists at the periphery of recognition, even though in reality it is at the center of real life in communities. In the arts administration and cultural policy field, informal arts practices were formally recognized as an important aspect of the cultural sector during an American Assembly meeting in 1997 focused on the arts and their public purpose.2 During that meeting, the importance of ethnographic research that could capture informal, amateur, community-based, and unincorporated arts, in addition to quantitative or statistical research on other aspects of the sector, was emphasized. Since that time, research on this kind of informal or unincorporated activity has continued, although work is still needed to position this aspect of the cultural sector in a way that does justice to the significance of its role in society. This chapter sets out to challenge the dominant model that relegates community arts and culture to the sidelines; it offers an alternative set of values that has implications for how arts administrators, urban planners, and policy makers should pursue their work in planning, urban design, funding, and cultural programming. With better research about communities and charged with defining and engaging with the creative economy3 and the ideology of the creative city,4 they have an opportunity to reassess their assumptions and approaches. The material presented here is based on years of research completed by the Urban Institute on the arts and artists in community life.5 Research has included participant observation of arts-related activities and events in neighborhoods all over the United States as well as hundreds of interviews and scores of focus group discussions with artists, arts administrators, urban planners, community development professionals, policy makers, and community residents. It has also included general population surveys on cultural participation and attitudes toward artists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationUnderstanding the Arts and Creative Sector in the United States
Subtitle of host publicationRevised Edition
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9780813543079
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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