University of Minnesota
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The Humphrey School of Public Affairs is the University of
Minnesota's school of policy and planning.


Arts Economy Initiative

The Arts Economy Initiative at the University's Humphrey School of Public Affairs is a decades-long project on artists, their livelihoods, the organizations that nurture and present their artwork, and contributions, along with arts organizations and cultural industries, to regional and local economies. Major funded projects summarized here have gnerated academic journal articles listed under more publications.

Ann Markusen and team members’ California's Arts and Cultural Ecology (2011) commissioned by the James Irvine Foundation, analyzes California’s arts participation rates and the state’s 11,000 non-profit arts and cultural organizations—their size, disciplines and missions, location, employment and volunteer structures, and economic impacts. It assesses the strengths and weaknesses of data sources like the Cultural Data Project, nonprofit IRS data available from the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the Survey on Public Participation in the Arts, and the American Community Survey. Exploring the determinants of arts organizational presence and per capita distribution across California cities, the study concludes that demographic and urban economic features are important but community arts-building matters, too. The study also summarizes the findings from case studies of more than three dozen small arts and cultural organizations under-counted in the CDP, many of them serving ethnic and folk art constituencies, showing how their governance and volunteer structures, space needs, and community embeddedness differ from those in larger organizations.

Amy Kitchener and Ann Markusen’s “Working with Small Arts Organizations: How and Why it Matters” explores how small arts organizations pop up, flourish, and sometimes flounder mostly under the philanthropic radar. Shows how they enrich our culture and engaging diverse and underserved communities, often fostering artistic expressions not adequately served by larger organizations. Uses Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ (ACTA) intermediary work in the Community Leadership Project (1) and our joint field research on small organizations for the James Irvine Foundation-funded California’s Arts and Cultural Ecology (2011) to show how small arts organizations are undercounted, how they differ from larger organizations, and how broad-ranging, sustainable and valuable they are. Shares ways that funders can better work with smaller arts nonprofits to further their missions.

Noah Isserman and Ann Markusen’s “Shaping the Future through Narrative: the Third Sector, Arts and Culture” (2012) invokes Andrew Isserman’s bold calls for vision, storytelling and narratives in regional science and planning, and explores why narratives are so common in the third (nonprofit) sector and why they should be subjected to evidence. Examines the narrative that bigger organizations are better, due to economies of scale, professional staffing, sustainable operations, and better measurement with one contending that smaller organizations generate superior social returns due to flexibility, innovativeness, and community-embeddedness. Uses evidence on arts and culture to challenge the former narrative and explore whose interests it serves.

Ann Markusen's Nurturing California’s Next Generation Arts and Cultural Leaders (2011) commissioned by the Center for Cultural Innovation for the Irvine Foundation, explores Next Geners in California's nonprofit arts and cultural organizations--young leaders between 18 and 35 years who are currently working with a California non-profit arts organization as administrators, artists or board members and who have worked in the field for less than ten consecutive years.  From more than 1300 survey responses, we found that as a group they have high aspirations and love their jobs’ involvement in the arts, being of service and producing something of value, and working with people they admire and enjoy.  However, they are frustrated with pay, benefits, lack of decision-making power and ability to shape strategic missions, and many feel their skills and views are not respected by their superiors. The study makes recommendations including better access to external training, professional development, networking and mentors.

Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa’s Creative Placemaking (2010), commissioned by the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors and American Architectural Foundation, explores the livability and economic development outcomes of creative placemaking, whereby cross-sector partners strategically shape the physical and social character of locales around arts and cultural activities. The research summarizes two decades of creative American placemaking, drawing on original economic research and case studies of pathbreaking initiatives in large and small cities, metropolitan to rural. 

Ann Markusen’s Los Angeles: America’s Artist Super City (2010) for the Center for Cultural Innovation, Los Angeles, marshals the evidence for Los Angeles’ status as America’ Artist Super City, summarizing original research on what matters to artists in choosing a place to live and work and exploring the human capital infrastructure and services needed to home-grow, attract, nurture and retain artists in Los Angeles. It advises stakeholders and policymakers on how to fashion unique strategies tailored to Los Angeles’ treasury of artists and their challenges.

Our “Arts and Culture in Urban/Regional Planning: A Review and Research Agenda,” Journal of Planning Education and Research, Vol. 29, No. 3: 379-91 (2010) argues that most city cultural planning exercises do not have clear and measurable goals, do not understand either the causal relationships involved or institutional and design alternatives, and do not have access to studies that clarify the impacts, risks, and opportunity costs of various strategies, investments, and revenue and expenditure patterns.  We review the state of knowledge about arts and culture as urban/regional development, exploring norms, summarizing the evidence on causal relationships, and addressing stakeholders, bureaucratic fragmentation, and citizen participation in cultural planning. The paper also examines designated cultural districts and tourist-targeted cultural investments as special cases.  

Our “Organizational Complexity in the Regional Cultural Economy,” Regional Studies, Vol. 44, No. 7: 813-828, locates cultural industries within a broader regional cultural ecology that includes for-profit, public, and non-profit organizations, as well as unincorporated community groups that produce, present, train, organize, guide, and regulate elements of the cultural economy. It uses survey and Census data on Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area artists to explore art work inter-relationships among commercial, non-profit, public, and unincorporated community sectors.  It documents significant contemporaneous crossover among artists in both regions, though varying by discipline and sector, a product of disparate advantages in each sector along a number of qualitative dimensions. It reveals that the size and nature of both regions’ cultural economies will be under-estimated if studies confine themselves to artists’ formal employment in cultural industries. Draws planning and policy implications and suggests under-explored areas for future research.

Marcie Rendon and Ann Markusen’s Native Artists: Livelihoods, Resources, Space, Gifts, Minneapolis, MN: Project on Regional and Industrial Economics (2009), funded by the McKnight Foundation, documents the economic and cultural contributions of Native artists using Minnesota’s Ojibwe artists as a case study. It probes how artists’ vision, training, employment and self-employment, access to space and resources, location, and commitment to community affect their ability to make a living from their work. It summarizes how Native artists preserve and celebrate traditions and provide bridges to the future for youth and between Native and non-Native communities. It examines how Native values, such as gift-giving, cooperating, and “not standing out,” clash with Western norms of artistic aspiration and self-promotion, yet how many artists have been successful in bridging traditional with contemporary artistic forms and content. It also probes the challenges of artists on reservations and town/tribal relationships. It offers recommendations for artists, arts resource/space managers, tribal leaders, casinos, funders, city leaders and Native arts organizations, among others, to raise the visibility of the value and impact of Native work and to build careers and good incomes for Native artists. It concludes that Minnesota and neighboring states could build a reputation for distinction in Woodland Indian art, comparable to the place Pueblo and Navajo art holds in the southwest.

Our San José Creative Entrepreneur Project (2008), documents the contribution of artists and designers to the famous and ethnically diverse Silicon Valley economy and, based on a large survey of artists in the region, advises the city and its arts stakeholders on the types of financial, business, and space support that will enhance their ability to create and make a living from their work. The study was funded by the City of San Jose in conjunction with the Center for Cultural Innovation.

Our Creative Communities Artist Data User Guide (2008) for New York-based Leveraging Investments in Creativity, serving a large number of American cities and states’ efforts to improve prospects for working artists. The Guide is a roadmap through the large data sets on artists’ employment, self-employment, income, industry orientation, educational attainment, housing status, and migration patterns, arrayed by artistic discipline and socio-economic characteristics such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, and immigration status.

Our study Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial, Nonprofit and Community Work (2006), finds that large percentages of artists in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas create and market their artwork in two or more of the commercial, nonprofit, and community sectors simultaneously. Many confirm that their experiences in each sector help them develop different aspects of their art and livelihoods. If money were not an issue, most would elect to work across sectors even more than they now do. The study shows how artists' crossover experiences vary by discipline (musicians, writers, performing and visual artists), age, ethnicity, income, self-employment, and location. The study includes numerous recommendations for facilitating crossover. This study was funded by the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Leveraging Investments in Creativity.

Another recent study, Artists' Centers: Evolution and Impact on Careers, Neighborhoods and Economies (2006), argues that cities and towns that have invested in dedicated spaces to nurture artists and bring them together with their publics multiply the impact of charitable and public sector dollars and help to revitalize neighborhoods, as well as creating “more and better” artists. Here, artists come together to vet their work, find encouragement and feedback, view masters in their fields, share studio space and equipment, and interact with audiences. This research was funded by the McKnight Foundation and Markusen’s Fesler-Lampert Chair at the University.

The Artistic Dividend (2003) and The Artistic Dividend Revisited (2004) argue that artists make hidden contributions to regional economies because they are often self-employed and not acknowledged in regional job counts or arts impact analysis. They may export their work by publishing it elsewhere, traveling to perform, selling it over the internet or at high end art fairs, and winning awards and commission from elsewhere. They also, by working on contract, make area non-arts businesses more productive and competitive in many ways—for example, writing, editing, directing, and acting in scripts and videos for marketing, designing and writing products and services, improving employee relations through play-acting, enhancing work environments through installations of their work. In addition, they often induce innovation on the part of their suppliers. This under-appreciated role constitutes a strong rationale for public support of the arts and particularly in ways that enable artists to build careers and network with each other.

The Arts Economy Initiative’s research documents the significance of artists’ presence in metropolitan areas across the US using Census data, surveys and interview sources, much of it published in scholarly journals (see the website list). The work shows that artists are relatively footloose and are attracted not only by the presence of other artists and sectors employing artists but also by strong philanthropic institutions at the regional level, a population that patronizes the arts, environmental and cultural amenities and livable neighborhoods with affordable housing. In a forthcoming book, The Distinctive City, we show that the cities that are successful in “home-growing” artists and attracting and keeping them are not necessarily the largest or fastest-growing metropolitan areas—a set of second tier cities have done very well by cultivating the arts. Many smaller towns and urban neighborhoods have figured out ways of nurturing artists in their midst as well. Among other arguments, we stress the under-appreciated potential of arts and cultural investments in the local consumption base as economic development.

The Arts Economy Initiative’s work is tailored around issues of concern to artists, arts organizations, and cultural and economic development policymakers. In addition to our published work, we have given dozens of high profile talks around the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and Brazil, often for large public audiences of mixed interests and in cities of many sizes, and frequently involving private consultations with civic and arts leaders in conjunction. Markusen and her team’s work has been extensively cited in various media.

You can find more publications here.

(1) Targeting nonprofits serving low income communities of color, the Community Leadership Project is a capacity building initiative of The James Irvine Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.