Art Works Blog

The Arts and Livability

Washington, DC

On Monday, the NEA's research team convened 30 experts in urban and rural planning, community development, sociology, economics, and arts administration for a day-long forum titled "Arts and Livability: The Road to Better Metrics." We were interested in brainstorming around three key questions: 1. What are the core elements of livability, and how do arts and design relate to those elements? 2. What are some effective ways to measure the contributions of the arts to livability? and 3. Where can such data be obtained?

These are important questions not just for the Arts Endowment; they are of growing interest throughout government, as evidenced by staff participation from HUD, the Census Bureau, and the Department of Agriculture. We feverishly scribbled notes as our colleagues shared promising techniques for factoring aesthetics into property value analysis, discussed indices for tracking cultural assets within neighborhoods, and presented case studies on the transformative power of design in a community. While no single "magic metric" emerged, all of us walked away with ample food for thought.

"Livability" is a near-synonym for "quality of life," and the arts are poised uniquely to deliver data on this front. Although communities with a high level of arts/cultural activity may not always realize a clear economic benefit, they appear to show greater social and civic well-being. The challenge is to employ a healthy mix of quantitative and qualitative research approaches to track these elusive outcomes.

By the end of the day, I think everyone knew we were in it for the long haul. It takes time to appreciate the value of cultural investments; we can't expect a short-term metric to register their impacts. I anticipate many challenging---and hopefully fruitful---conversations about these ideas in the near future.

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