Assistant Professor Carole Rosenstein

George Mason University and Urban Institute in Washington, DC

Carole Rosenstein was a lead researcher on the NEA study of arts festivals. She is an assistant professor of Arts Management at George Mason University and an Affiliated Scholar at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. Her research interests include cultural policy, cultural democracy, public culture, and community arts organizations. Dr. Rosenstein’s most recent policy brief, Cultural Development and City Neighborhoods, examines how city-level cultural policy infrastructure underserves urban communities. It was developed during a Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Currently, she is writing a book about John Dewey and progressive arts organizations.

Terms of Art? What we don’t know when we ask about arts attendance

One way that cultural administrators and policymakers are working to measure and promote cultural vitality is by stretching older definitions of what “counts as” art, including broader sets of creative and consumption activities. A recent study of audiences for arts festivals in the U.S. suggests that as research expands to include art forms and activities beyond the traditional narrow and canonical definitions of art, new measures must be carefully calibrated to respondent understandings of and assumptions about the arts if they are to be effective.

Data from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) indicate that arts festivals attract much more diverse audiences than do “benchmark” art forms (e.g., opera, symphonic music, museums). The SPPA suggests that unlike “benchmark” arts audiences, festival audiences closely reflect the demographics of the U.S. population in terms of education, income, race and ethnicity. However, new data from the NEA’s Study of Outdoor Arts Festivals in the U.S. suggest that while festival audiences do appear markedly racially and ethnically diverse compared to audiences for “benchmark” arts activities, they are also very highly educated – almost five times more likely to hold a post-graduate degree than is a member of the U.S. population, and about twice as likely as a benchmark arts attender. Festival audiences are also wealthier than the general population.

How can we explain the striking and important differences between these two data sets? In this paper, I suggest that researchers don’t know nearly enough about what people mean when they say that they have attended a festival (but not a museum or a ballet or an opera). I argue that, given this state of affairs, the emphasis on building quantitative measures now must be balanced with and informed by deep, qualitative investigations of our research terms.



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