Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators

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Resource Details
Maria Rosario Jackson, Florence Kabwasa-Green, Joaquin Harranz

This 104 page report (with eight chapters and seven appendices), based on extensive community research, discusses cultural vitality and gives extensive information on indicators. This piece -- primarily for evaluators, researchers, and policymakers -- is written in clear, user-friendly language. The fundamental goal of the Urban Institute's Arts and Culture Indicators Project (ACIP) is to help policymakers make better decisions for neighborhoods and cities. To this end, ACIP provides researchers, practitioners, and policymakers with information about the presence and role of arts and culture in communities—how arts and culture affect neighborhood conditions and community dynamics. Specifically, ACIP develops quantifiable measures of arts and culture and integrates them into quality of life measurement systems that can compare conditions across communities and in the same community over time. Launched in the late 1990s with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, ACIP's basic premises are (a) that a healthy place to live includes opportunities for and the presence of arts, culture, and creative expression, (b) that arts, culture, and creative expression are important determinants of how communities fare, and by extension (c) that full understanding of U.S. communities is inherently impossible without including these important perspectives. [Adapted from their website] ACIP's approach has always been deliberately applied. The concepts they develop, the measures they find promising, and the data-related practices they advocate have been vetted, tested, and, in some cases, initially developed in conjunction with practitioners, researchers, and policy players in urban planning, community development, and arts-related fields. In addition, they collaborate with community indicator initiatives around the country intheir continuing efforts to integrate arts and culture into indicator systems. At the same time, their years of research on arts and culture in a range of communities across the United States have enabled them to expand the conventional paradigm of what counts as arts and culture in a way that makes it more consistent with, and inclusive of, the demographic realities of our nation—including low- and moderate-income communities, communities of color, and immigrant communities. In this particular piece, the authors define cultural vitality as evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities. They use this definition as a lens to clarify understanding of the data necessary (as well as the more limited data currently available) to document adequately and include arts and culture in more general quality of life indicators. The report recommends an initial set of arts and culture indicators derived from nationally available data, and compares selected metropolitan statistical areas based on those measures. Policy and planning implications for use of the cultural vitality definition and related measures are discussed. The definition of cultural vitality used in this report aims to capture the wide range of arts and culture activity that research has shown people value. The authors discuss the implications of embracing their concept of cultural vitality. They discuss the community indicator field and the progress it has made in widening its treatment of arts and culture measurement. The report presents a four tiered schema for sorting data for indicators based on "usability." [Tier one refers to quantitative data that is publicly available, free or of minimal cost, collected at least annually, able to be disaggregated geographically to the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) level or smaller, and nationally comparable. Tier two data are also quantitative, publicly available, free or virtually free, annually recurrent, and able to be disaggregated to at least the MSA level. However, they are not nationally comparable. Tier three data are also quantitative but come from sources that are either restricted to a single point in time or sporadic (i.e., not necessarily regular or covering the same material on each repetition). Tier four data refer to qualitative or pre-quantitative documentation of phenomena of interest—often from anthropological and ethnographic studies of arts and culture in communities.] The final chapters of the report give recommendations, according to the four tiers, on selecting mearusres for research. [Summary adapted from Urban Institute's website.]

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