Mapping State Cultural Policy: The State of Washington

November, 2003

Based on media coverage of government funding for culture – most memorably, the controversy over the National Endowment for the Arts in the early 1990s – one might imagine that all public money for arts, humanities, and heritage come from the federal government.

In fact, most support for cultural activities happens at the state level. Yet up until now, there was little knowledge about how this system of support works and what its consequences are for the cultural life of citizens.

In 2001, the Cultural Policy Center (CPC) received a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to study the complex network of state-level programs that fund culture. A team of researchers led by J. Mark Schuster, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and visiting professor at the Cultural Policy Center in 2003-04, selected Washington State for a pilot study.

The result is Mapping State Cultural Policy: The State of Washington, a comprehensive overview and analysis of one state’s cultural policy system. The study’s findings were startling. For example, while the Washington State Arts Commission and other agencies specifically mandated to encourage cultural activity played a large role, so did more unexpected government agencies and non-governmental organizations. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, even the Department of Transportation were all involved in activities that could be described as cultural policy.

The study also found a stark divide between the prosperous urban population in the west and the struggling rural population in east. “Cultural policy has not been clearly responsive to the differing needs of the eastern and western parts of the state,” Schuster wrote, “though humanities policy and heritage policy have been more conscious of these differences than has arts policy.”

See also the video of a conference dedicated to the publication

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