Looking Back while Moving Forward: What’s Next for Urban Arts and Culture Research?

Ann Markusen’s Creative Cities: A 10-Year Research Agenda provides a comprehensive review of the past decade of urban arts and culture research. While some questions about the role of arts and culture in urban economic development have been adequately explored, others require further attention.

Markusen first addresses the heavily researched impacts of arts and culture on urban economic development. Upon reviewing over a dozen studies spanning four decades, she concludes that, from job creation to tourism to productivity to sales, investing in arts and cultural activities is now commonly understood to offer economic returns to urban communities. She also cautions, however, that this reasoning is still underdeveloped simply because increased spending at any level will likely boost jobs and profits.

Her review also highlights the complexities of place—particularly how artists and cultural consumers, as well as arts organizations, decide where to locate and participate. For example, she explores the complicated relationship between arts venue location, neighborhood characteristics, and expected patronage. A small theater may choose to locate in a neighborhood that has a heavy patronage in the surrounding area, whereas a large flagship theater may draw from a much larger area, requiring a location with parking, street access, and transit. Thus, venue location and neighborhood characteristics are strongly tied to expected participation.

According to Markusen, many of the current holes in arts and policy research could be filled with access to better data. This is especially true for Markusen’s final major area of focus: research pertaining to demographic diversity and the arts. She notes the relative dearth of data about cultural audiences with a range of ethnic, class, and national backgrounds. Thus, it is beneficial for arts and cultural policy makers to consider how and why different demographic groups choose to participate in the arts. In Minneapolis, for example, the Guthrie Lab Theatre’s production of Nickel and Dimed was extended for many weeks due to its exploration of minimum wage work, which appealed to union workers. Similarly, Minneapolis’s Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre strategically changed its programming to appeal to the increasing number of Latinos in the theatre’s patronage area. Thus, for arts organizations to be fiscally sustainable and culturally inclusive, researchers must explore ways to apply new methodologies to answer the question: who participates, where, and why?

Markusen synthesizes topics at the heart of 21st-century arts and cultural research, and calls for studies that span formerly rigid academic disciplines, employ mixed methodologies, and incorporate comparative perspectives.

Markusen, Ann. 2014. "Creative Cities: A 10-Year Research Agenda." Journal of Urban Affairs, 36(S2): 567-589. 
DOI: 10.1111/juaf.12146

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