Lots of communities and consultants talk about ”cultural vitality,” and the benefits of achieving that status for their local economy, education system, creative workforce, and quality of life. But few have actually detailed what they mean by the term, or by what measures they would know that they had achieved their goal.
A clear definition of ”cultural vitality” and specific measures for assessing that vitality are two of the goals of the Arts and Culture Indicators Project, a decade-long effort of the Urban Institute. The latest monograph emerging from that project, Cultural Vitality in Communities: Interpretation and Indicators, was released last month, and is available for download in PDF format.
The report defines ”cultural vitality” in a wide and inclusive way, encompassing professional arts venues, producers, and presenters, but also amateur, informal, educational, individual, and community elements:
Cultural vitality is the evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting arts and culture as a dimension of everyday life in communities.
Building on this definition, the report details the available data at national, regional, state, and local levels, recommending the most consistent and accessible to the task. The resulting indicators still favor the more formal nonprofit and commercial creative activities in any community, simply because they are tracked more reliably by government and related research projects (IRS data, charitable statistics, labor statistics, and so on). But the report points the way to building more rich and inclusive assessments of vitality on all levels.
Of particular interest are the case studies of cities already at work defining cultural vitality for themselves, and creating on-going efforts to measure their success. These include the Boston Indicators Project, the Metropolitan Chicago Information Center, and the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, among others.
If you or your community are struggling to connect arts activity in your community in a more dynamic, integral, and accountable way, this report is worth a read.