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The Connection Between the Arts and Neighborhood Diversity

A new study zeroes in on the relationship between arts organizations and the economic and cultural diversity of New York City neighborhoods.
People walk past the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
People walk past the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The role of the arts in city life is a hot-button issue among urbanists. I have long argued that street-level arts and cultural scenes signal the diversity and economic vibrancy of cities. My own Bohemian Index has linked artists, musicians, writers, designers, and entertainers to innovation and high tech industries, and I have often highlighted the connection between vibrant music scenes and startup cultures in cities and urban neighborhoods. But others disagree, arguing that arts and culture simply flourish in already wealthy places. Still others contend that arts have an even more perverse effect, ultimately leading to higher real estate prices, gentrification, and the displacement of working class and lower income residents from their neighborhoods.

A new study from Nicole Foster and James Murdoch III at the University of Texas at Arlington and Carl Grodach at Queensland University of Technology adds to our understanding of the role of arts in cities. The study conducts a detailed empirical examination of the connection between arts organizations and key measures of neighborhood diversity and economic advantage or disadvantage. To get at this, the authors use extensive data on nonprofit arts organizations collected by DataArts*, which they compare to data on neighborhood diversity (by race, income, and industry) and indicators of neighborhood disadvantage (based on unemployment and the share of people below the poverty line and on public assistance) from the U.S. Census.