Art Works Blog

Taking Note: The Young, the Restless, and the Arts

Washington, DC

Times Square Fisheye, courtesy of Randy Le'Moine Photography via Flickr

What draws young talent to a town or city? Going one step further, what attracts them to a particular zone or neighborhood? The answers, if known, would excite many a corporate recruiter. True, we may never map the entire network of factors affecting personal choices about where to live, just as we may not agree on a definition for "young talent." Yet two recent studies bring us closer to understanding how young Americans value their communities. The findings suggest new lines of inquiry for arts and cultural research.

Last fall, a study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation advanced arts and cultural offerings as "key drivers" of Americans' attachment to their communities. In the 26 towns and cities represented in the "Knight Soul of the Community" study, the availability of "social offerings" emerged as the single most important factor influencing residents' community attachment. Within a range of those offerings, "arts and cultural opportunities" rated the highest among residents in 2010. Another key driver of community attachment was "aesthetics"---including "beauty or physical setting"---and still another was ?openness.?

Nevertheless, when polled about the openness of their communities, two out of three residents cited a lack of opportunity for talented college graduates. So where should a recruiter go to find this talent? According to results from a different study, aptly titled "Young and Restless," the answer may be closer than we think. Think "close-in" neighborhoods, in fact. For the purpose of the study, close-in neighborhoods---or "urban cores"?---are defined as located within three miles of a metropolis's central business district. And this is precisely where college-educated young adults have tended to cluster.

CEOs for Cities has just released an update to the study, which uses U.S. Census data to understand migration patterns of 25- to 34-year-olds who hold four-year college degrees. Previous reports relied largely on Census data from 1990 and 2000, but the new analysis uses a more recent, still relatively untapped source: the American Community Survey data files for 2005-2009.

College-educated young adults are increasingly concentrated in urban cores, the study finds. Since 2000, the number of 25 to 34-year-olds with college degrees has climbed 26 percent in urban-core neighborhoods for the nation?s 51 largest metro areas. Outside urban cores, this group has also increased---but only at half the rate (13 percent).

How do these findings relate to studies of the arts and cultural sector? Future studies could examine its role in Americans? decisions about where to live. If the values of "social offerings," "aesthetics," and "openness" are indeed the three top drivers of community attachment, as the Knight/Gallup study would indicate, then perhaps the "Young and Restless" individuals were motivated by similar factors.

We already know from previous research that 88 percent of U.S. not-for-profit performing arts organizations and art museums cluster in urban areas, and that 30 percent of all not-for-profit arts groups reside in the top ten metros. Half of all artists live in just 30 cities, and more than one-fifth of U.S. artists live in just five major metro areas. Maybe further research can identify the proximity of these cultural assets as a distinctive value that contributes to the decisions of talented youth to migrate to urban cores. Ideally, one could then quantify the relationship of this factor to social and economic outcomes as represented by growth in creativity, innovation, and productivity. At least a researcher can dream!

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