Measuring the Cultural Vitality of Scenes: the Music Scene in Chicago

Lawrence Rothfield

January 31, 2012 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy Studies
1155 East 60th St.
Room 289B

Lawrence Rothfield,  Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago

Even before taking office, mayor-elect Emanuel indicated that one of his priorities in cultural policy would be to develop a music district in Uptown. Emanuel's emphasis on cultural hubs and commercial arts undoubtedly stems in part from fiscal considerations: in an age of austerity, changing zoning regulations is a lot cheaper than building another Millennium Park. But it also reflects a sense that the future of Chicago depends on its ability to compete not just for tourists flying in to attend Lollapalooza but for college graduates and cultural "creatives" looking to move somewhere, for whom quality-of-life means a vibrant local scene — in this case a vibrant local live music scene.

That poses a research problem: how can one measure the cultural vitality of a scene? The usual metrics used by urban planners — basic economic statistics on employment or revenue, and economic impact studies — are not very good at measuring what matters to frequenters of music clubs, gospel performances, or house parties. To get at this, the Cultural Policy Center, in a pathbreaking 2007 study cited by Emanuel, developed a new set of indicators of local musical vitality, and used these indicators to compare the music scenes in 50 different US metropolitan areas. In this workshop, the lead author of the study reviews its main findings and talks about the study's genesis and afterlife.

Lawrence Rothfield is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. He co-founded the Cultural Policy Center with Carroll Joynes and served for ten years as its faculty director. He also served as director (and co-founder, with Gerald Graff) of the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities.