Art Works Blog

Taking Note: Location Preferences of Arts Organizations

Carl Grodach, most recently as an associate professor at the University of Texas Arlington's School of Urban & Public Affairs, has worked hard to complicate our view of where arts organizations choose to locate. 

In a February 2014 journal article based on NEA-funded research, Grodach and his colleagues write: "The arts' role in developing metro economies is as highly underestimated as it is overgeneralized." This dual misunderstanding stems, appropriately, from two factors. One is scant attention to the different sort of value propositions that present to arts organizations at the metro versus neighborhood level.

Another factor insufficiently examined, Grodach and his team suggest, is how organizations representing different artistic disciplines may cluster in different geographic areas based on different resource needs.

In the article, the researchers announce: "We seek to understand the extent to which  particular social, economic, and demographic attributes may shape or are shaped by the presence of arts clusters at both the metro and neighborhood levels." For the paper, published in Urban Studies (and adapted for a London School of Economics blog entry), Grodach and his team used the American Community Survey and County Business Patterns data to create a set of 33 social, economic, and housing variables they analyze in relation to 22 "arts clusters," based on industries selected from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

The clusters are analyzed both at the regional levelthat is, by location quotient (or industry concentration), in all 366 metropolitan statistical areas (as of 2010)and at the neighborhood level (using nearly 14,000 zip codes from Zip Business Patterns data).

What are some findings? For starters, only 28 of the 366 metro areas have "strong arts concentrations...conforming to the overarching 'winner-take-all' geography of cultural industries," Grodach writes. Examples include L.A., New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Nashville, and Honolulubut also notable "small-metro" college towns such as Ashville, North Carolina, Boulder, Colorado, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Regarding metro area choice in general, it should be no surprise that arts organizations (like other businesses) tend to cluster in metros favoring upward mobility (e.g., high education and low poverty levels). Yet the importance of these and other factors in determining an arts cluster's choice of metro areaincluding diversity, finance, and the presence of smaller, older housing unitsseems to vary by metro size.

Drill down to the neighborhood level, and a more distinct pattern emerges. From a neighborhood rather than metro perspective, Grodach reports, "we find that art clusters are tied less to conventional signs of gentrification and 'urban' characteristics but rather they may be found where other related industries that rely on specialized expertise and knowledge abound, or what we call an 'innovation district.'" Not only that, but "the innovation district factora composite of knowledge-driven industries and amenitiesis by far the strongest predictor of all arts clusters. Unlike at the metro level, a combination of high levels of education and low poverty are not predictive of arts cluster location patterns."

Apart from the presence of an innovation district, the type of art cluster appears to predict neighborhood location. Using the statistical technique of factor analysis, the researchers identified five arts cluster types: Cultural Product Services (arts industries related to film, music, and design); Arts Districts (museums, performing arts theaters, and art galleries); Arts Education Districts (music groups and fine arts schools); Music Services; and Film Services.

According to Grodach, an examination of these cluster types by neighborhood reveals that "various types of art productionwhether design industries, film, or musicrely on different agglomeration economies and resources." Closer scrutiny of these local dynamics can help to combat stereotypes about arts districts in urban policy and planning scenarios. "Arts-driven economic development is currently applied through a very crude overarching arts district or 'creative city' initiative rather than looking at the specific relationship between local artistic clusters and their milieu," he writes.

In a separate working paper supported by the same NEA research grant, Grodach is less interested in knowing what factors drive location preference for arts clusters than he is in understanding how such organizations contribute to neighborhood change. In particular, what is the relationship between arts clustersof which two types appear in Grodach's study: the fine arts and commercial artsand gentrification, including possibly the displacement of lower-income residents?

Using methods and data sources similar to those in the Urban Studies article, Grodach and his team conclude that "commercial arts industries show the strongest association with gentrification in rapidly changing areas while the fine arts [performing arts companies, museums, and fine art schools] are associated with stable, slow-growth neighborhoods."

As with the journal article, the working paper takes aim at facile generalizations about the arts and economic geography. "In short, while urban planners and policy pundits often talk broadly about the arts and their impact on neighborhood change, this study shows that we need to better distinguish between arts activities when specifying the relationship to neighborhood change and should consider the pace of change in a neighborhood as well," Grodach notes.

Two months ago, Grodach moved further to illumine the socio-demographic characteristics of places where arts organizations cluster. This time he and his team analyzed more than 1,300 organizations identified through the New York State Cultural Data Project in three geographies: New York state, the New York-Long Island metro area, and neighborhoods outside the metro area.

In keeping with the work cited above, Grodach takes pains to note how different types of arts organizations are associated with different neighborhood attributes. And he shows strong links between "arts organizations and the creative economy and neighborhood amenities" as well as between "the presence of arts organizations and urbanized neighborhoods" that are home to young professionals.

A jarring result of his analysis, however,  is a "a negative association between arts organizations and diverse, ethnic neighborhoods. This is especially the case for younger, smaller, locally focused organizations in New York City." Grodach concludes: "Most troubling, particularly for a city as diverse as New York, is that organizations that may potentially have the capacity to help stabilize struggling communities are less likely to locate there than in neighborhoods that are home to the young and affluent."

So much of this post has been about urban and/or metro phenomena associated with arts organizations' location choice that I anticipate the question: what about rural locations for the arts? Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) is sponsoring a new data collection, the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey, which should get us closer to understanding rural location choices by arts organizations (if they are adequately represented in the survey). Working collegially with ERS staff, the NEA's Office of Research & Analysis has helped to provide input on key survey items.

Speaking of location preference, Carl Grodach may need to learn a new geography entirely. As of this summer, he has joined the faculty of Australia's Queensland University of Technology.





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