Understanding if arts participation is going through a decline or a renaissance is a tough question to answer that requires many different data sets and lines of inquiry to fully understand. One potential route that I think could help us understand the picture better is looking at Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital reproduction theory, which explores how formal education is replacing inheritance models of creating a cultural elite, through a new lens.
“Bourdieu argued that teachers and other gatekeepers interpreted ‘cultural capital’ as a sign of grace, indicating that a child was gifted and worthy of attention and cultivation,” (DiMaggio, Mukhatar, 2004, p. 170). Students would go on to have more opportunities and ultimately obtain the same elite status of their parents (DiMaggio, Mukhatar, 2004, p. 170). With Bourdieu’s model, being seen and recognized by the teachers and gatekeepers played an important role to gaining cultural capital. In today’s modern world where the Internet and social media platforms reign supreme, there are more folks than teachers and gatekeepers who can see and recognize cultural capital, which then translates, potentially, to an increase in success by many different societal factors, whether they’re economic or social . One thing I think is important to Bourdieu’s concept involving teachers and gatekeepers, is that it can still take a lot of monetary value to be exposed to these teachers and gatekeepers, especially ones that are well-connected in the arts. Going further, access to those kinds of gatekeepers weren’t equitably available then (just as they aren’t necessarily equitably available today).
Meanwhile, we now have avenues where anyone can be seen and recognized as having arts participation cultural capital through the Internet and its many tools. This can happen whether you’re sharing that you’re consuming art or producing art. Showcasing your arts participation to many different people could lead to the same level of cultural capital production, where being seen and recognized as talented as a producer or cultured as a consumer by many people online could then lead to further opportunities down the road to help someone achieve modern levels of elite status.
With that said my research question is: Has the ability to be seen as an arts participant—whether you’re creating or consuming art—through the Internet and social media platforms increased arts participation as cultural capital? Research based in this question could be very revealing about whether or not we’re experiencing an arts participation renaissance.
People can now easily share their arts participation, whether they’re creating or consuming the arts. We define creating as any level of arts-based production, from making music to share on SoundCloud to writing blog posts that you’d publish to a personal website, or even making Tik Toks. And then arts consumption would be attending any kind of arts or cultural event. The sharing of these events could be talking about either arts participation style online, sharing photos, joining social media groups related to the topics, engaging in commerce and more. With the ability to showcase your cultural capital online to wider audiences and in turn potentially be afforded more cultural capital that could translate to tangible societal success, arts participation could be increasing and reaching a new zenith in today’s era.
There would be two critical components of data to collect first to determine arts participation. We would need events attendance data for various arts avenues, but we’d also need commerce data around how many art products one might purchase. Then there’d be metrics around art production: How much time one might spend producing art or how many works of art one has created in a given timeframe. I suspect collecting data around time spent producing art might be the most valuable.
With those metrics collected, we’d then need data around online sharing of arts participation. We’d need to understand how often arts participants share their consumption or creation online through the various ways they can engage in that sharing activity online. After getting that data, we’d need to evaluate reasons for posting their arts participation online, including how much of a factor it is seeing someone else in your network posting about arts participation to get you to post about your own arts participation.
Then last, we’d need to get a sense of what sorts of opportunities and cultural capital these various forms of arts participation providing? We’d need to identify if consumers and creators see themselves getting more opportunities by sharing their arts participation.
There would be a lot of challenges with this study around framing arts participation. You’d have to define the many types of participation both consumers and creators engage in. For instance, is creating Cosplay costumes arts participation? Is purchasing Cosplay costumes participation? Is watching a video of someone making their art participation? Is building a lego set considered arts creation? What about the various ways we can share these arts and consume or participate in some manner? Building out all those deeper definitions would be extremely challenging, but not impossible.
From a policy perspective, this data could help expand the understanding the influence of social media and Internet platforms and tools on cultural production in general. Regulations could be created to help change social media and Internet practices to ensure more equitable access to resources and exposure for all art participants. Also, this data, by showing how important the internet is, could lead to regulation that increases transparency of how Internet platforms work. Additionally, this research could help guide policy that addresses school curriculum around how to use the Internet and stay involved and engaged so all can have the opportunity to gain the same levels of access to arts participation.
DiMaggio, P., & Mukhtar, T. (2004). Arts participation as cultural capital in the United States, 1982–2002: Signs of decline? Poetics, 32(2), 169–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2004.02.005
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