Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Communities Where NEA Grant Projects Occur

Oliver Douglas: Keep Manhattan, just give me the countryside.
Lisa Douglas: Dah-ling I love you but give me Park Avenue.

-TV theme song to Green Acres


In the '60s sitcom Green Acres, Oliver Douglas quits his law practice in New York City to move to Hooterville and begin life as a farmer. His wife, Lisa, reluctantly leaves their Park Avenue penthouse apartment to join Oliver at the farm. What happens next is a zany culture clash between country and city sensibilites.

In real life, the line between urban and rural is not drawn as clearly as in Green Acres. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, has considered several definitions of urban and rural, including one based on populations of cities and towns (i.e., Census "places"), and another drawing on urban and rural commuting patterns.

More often, two other definitions surface when statisticians compare urban and rural areas. The first is the U.S. Census Bureau's technical definiton of urban, based on population density and development. Census-defined urban contains "urbanized areas," referring to densely developed areas containing 50,000 or more people, and "urban clusters," which are densely developed areas with at least 2,500 but fewer than 50,000 people.

And the remainder? Consisting of all territory outside urbanized areas and urban clusters, it provides the Census with a working definition of rural.

A second commonly used definition of urban draws on metropolitan areas. Defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, metropolitan areas are core-based statistical areas associated with at least one urbanized area that has a population of  50,000 or more. The metropolitan statistical area comprises the central county or counties (or equivalent) containing the core, plus the adjacent outlying counties having a high degree of social and economic integration with the central county or counties.

In short, metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), which are county-based, delineate social and economic connections. Census-defined urban areas, alternatively, refer to densely developed spaces.  

Notably, both MSAs and urban areas are national in scope—i.e., they can cross states, counties, and other legal boundaries. Also, metro areas contain rural territories. For example, Fauquier County, Virginia, is a metropolitan county within the Greater Washington DC area. Although Fauquier County is economically and socially connected to the District, much of it is rural in Census terms.

Nevertheless, the MSA-based definition holds several advantages for researchers analyzing the NEA's grants data. First, the arts are largely social activities, and metro areas are defined as economically and socially connected areas. Census-defined urban areas, as we have seen, are instead densely packed places. For example, Lake of the Woods, in Orange County, Virginia, (65 miles from the District of Columbia) is an urbanized cluster of nearly 9,500 residents. Lake of the Woods is urban (it is densely populated/developed), but it is not metropolitan.

Second, while the Census Bureau produces population estimates for urban areas on a five-year basis, the Bureau releases population estimates for metropolitan areas annually. The currency of the data enables the Arts Endowment to more easily gauge the geographic distribution of its grants and related activities.

For example, according to a preliminary analysis of NEA grants data for fiscal 2013, about 15 percent of NEA-awarded grants went to organizations in either non-metro ("rural") areas or small MSAs (fewer than 250,000 residents). 

Map of U.S.

Even more telling are the locations of NEA-funded activities or eventsplaces, in other words, where grantees conduct their NEA-supported projects. Consider: arts organizations that receive grants to support touring exhibits or performances are likely to conduct many of those activities far from the organization's home town or city. Grantees enumerate these sites to the NEA as part of their standard reports upon project completion. In 2012 (the most recently complete year for which data on project locations have been collected), 86 percent of NEA-supported projects took place in metro ("urban") areas—virtually the same as the share of the U.S. population residing in metros (85 percent).

Indeed, the distribution of NEA-funded projects across urban areas, by size of population, generally mirrors the distribution of urban residents. In 2012, for instance, ten percent of NEA-funded activities took place in small urban areas (populations below 250,000). This share is nearly the same as the proportion of U.S. residents living in these small areas (ten percent).

Similarly, 17 percent of NEA-funded projects occurred in urban areas with populations of at least 250,000 but below one million. The share of the U.S. population living in areas of this size is 20 percent.

Taken together, these preliminary figures show that the geographic distribution of NEA-supported activities line up with where Americans live, both in non-metro areas and in metro areas large and small.  




Submitted by Mas Masumoto (not verified) on

Thanks and good to see how there's a connection between population and funding. Wonder if another way of examining this is to see how artists "self define" themselves. Who and what organizations are "rural" and those that aren't. And also who are the audiences for "rural art"...  Good food for thought.

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