Our analysis of fifty organizations conducting original research into the social impact of the arts resulted in the following breakdown1:
The research landscape revealed that the majority of practical research and data on the arts, culture, and creativity has been undertaken for an audience of government and philanthropic funders and, secondarily, business leaders who are likely to influence elected officials and sit on the boards of foundations.
Given this target audience, it is not surprising that this research has focused on Creative Places rather than Creative Businesses: government and philanthropy have driven the creative placemaking conversation within arts and community development over the past 10 years. Nor is it surprising that economic development has been the primary focus for this work from an impact perspective: lobbying elected officials to fund the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as state and local arts agencies has been the mission of many of the groups conducting this research.
Despite not being developed with impact investors in mind, the existing research on creativity and culture yields many relevant insights backed up by meaningful data regarding the social impact that investment in Creative Places and Creative Businesses can yield.
There is a strong body of evidence that the arts, cultural institutions, and the creative economy are good investments from a social impact perspective, offering a good starting point for understanding the social impact that can be achieved by investing through a Creativity Lens.
The majority of the research we reviewed is intended for philanthropic funders, government leaders, and business leaders. Here are some examples:
- Grantmakers in the Arts, a national network of public, private, and corporate arts funders, issues annual reports on trends in arts funding from government and philanthropy sources.
- Americans for the Arts is a national advocacy network of arts organizations that lobbies local and national government entities for favorable policies towards the arts. They have more than 50 years of national, state, and city level research connecting the arts with economic prosperity, and arguing that the arts serve as economic growth engines in communities attracting tourists, generating jobs, boosting tax rolls, and other positive local economic outcomes.
- The Center for Creative Community Development at Williams College is concerned with the economic impact of museums and other arts and cultural institutions.
- Etsy, the online marketplace for creative entrepreneurs, through its public policy arm undertakes research to inform governmental policy affecting independent creative entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Social Impact Focus
Our landscape revealed almost no research exploring community resiliency related to arts and culture. The majority of the research we reviewed covers issues pertaining to economic development, followed by civic engagement and quality of life studies.
- The Otis College of Art & Design “Otis Report on the Creative Economy 2017,” describes how the Creative Economy has served as an integral part of California’s powerful economic growth engine. Specifically, property taxes, state and local personal income taxes, and sales taxes directly and indirectly generated by creative industries totaled $16.7 billion across the state over the 2010-2015 time period covered by the report.2
- The Creative Industries Network, based in Pittsburgh, conducts Regional Creative Industries Asset Mapping to illustrate how the city’s creative industries are coalescing into a large-scale innovation hub.
- Since 1994, the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice has focused on the social impact of cultural organizations in communities. Their findings demonstrate “significant” correlations between cultural institutions in low income communities, and outcomes such as reduced obesity, improved academic attainment rates, and improved community safety.
- Joshua Guetzkow of Princeton University’s Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies argues that the presence of artists, arts organizations, and institutions improves community image and status, promotes neighborhood cultural diversity, and reduces neighborhood crime and delinquency.3
Creative Economy Segment
The majority of research efforts we reviewed focused on Creative Places. Five organizations have focused on other topics related to creativity such as the cognitive process among teams, or the characteristics of highly creative people. The remainder focused on Creative Businesses.
- The National Endowment for the Arts, the original catalyst for the field of creative placemaking, has commissioned general research on creative placemaking, case studies and profiles of creative placemaking projects, and guidance on assessment and standards for creative placemaking.
- Incubators for Creative Businesses such as New Inc. in New York City and Creative Startups in New Mexico share the experience of the companies that they are supporting.
About half of the organizations we reviewed have a national focus; four work internationally. The rest have a regional focus such as Creative Many Michigan, Arts Midwest, and New England Foundation for the Arts.
Other arts researchers have made efforts to compile the research landscape into the social impact of the arts – this piece from Createquity is among the best examples.