The study Cultural Clusters: The Implications of Cultural Assets Agglomeration for Neighborhood Revitalization takes a unique view at assessing the impact of the arts on a broader community. The study is done in the context that cities have focused their creative placemaking efforts on big, blockbuster-type projects that aim to attract large crowds through the creation of entire districts.
Meanwhile, Stern and Seifert (2010) focus on “concentrations of cultural resources — nonprofit arts organizations, commercial cultural firms, resident artists, and cultural participants — a phenomenon that we call cultural clusters,” (p. 262). Stern and Seifert argue that these cultural clusters drive many different methods of cultural engagement, which then spurs civic engagement and then a multitude of economic benefits. They looked at Philadelphia communities to determine the impact these clusters might have on both the economic and social well-being of the neighborhoods.
The study specifically examined four community-level indicators to measure impact, which included regional cultural participation rates, the inventory of nonprofit cultural providers, the number of commercial cultural firms and the number of resident artists. They then cross-referenced the counting of each indicator with a census block and then examined that with housing market conditions during the time frame. The study revealed that communities with cultural clusters that showcase each of those indicators explained previously experienced modest increases in housing prices.
While having a bigger emphasis on economic-based indicators of the impact of arts, particularly with the number of commercial cultural institutions, nonprofits and then housing prices, I think this study does a good job of showcasing a mixture of community level social benefits. Mixing multiple types of institutions and participation, both consumption- and production-based participation styles, does a good job of helping us understand what artists are here.
But I think the study ultimately fails in showing true impact of the arts, because the economic data just doesn’t feel like it’s enough these days. I don’t personally know much about how the housing crisis impacted Philadelphia, but the bubble could have had an impact on those housing prices more than the cultural cluster components back in 2004, which is a few years before the bubble popped. Additionally, we don’t dive deeper around other benefits like health and cognitive, which I think should be equally weighted in importance, if not more so. Potentially, if this study included a surveys that measured citizen happiness, you might be able to more accurately measure impact. Yet, framing economic indicators as the majority isn’t cutting it for me.