Money May Make The World Go Round, But Education Drives Participation

In a recent “Taking Note”, National Endowment for the Arts’  Director of Research & Analysis,  Sunil Iyengar mentioned that in the coming year the NEA will commission some monographs exploring the role of taste and preferences in arts participation.

He later points out a study conducted in Spain that touches on this very notion.  With the obvious disclaimer that the cultural norms of Spain differ from that of the U.S., I wanted to point out a couple interesting observations the Spanish researchers made.

They categorized study participants as either “absolute” or “recoverable” non-attendees. The absolute non-attendees were those who were “impermeable to cultural policy” and would not attend for any reason whatsoever. Recoverable non-attendees were those who had not attended recently but  shared characteristics with people who did. Among the “recoverable” are people who might have had children and will become increasingly open to participating as their kids got older.

The researchers categorized willingness to attend across cultural events, visits to historic/cultural sites or attend cinema.

In all three cases, education works independently of income, in positively affecting attendance. Even the effect of income on arts participation is shown to be “more significant” for people at the higher versus lower education levels.


The researchers conclude that as education rises, interest in arts attendance grows dramatically. For example, changing a respondent’s education level from “primary education”-only to “higher education” would cut his or her likelihood of being an “absolute non-attendee” by 50 percentage points—for all three arts activities.

Again acknowledging that Spain and the US are different situations, I was pretty astonished to see a 50% reduction absolute non-attendance closely associated with education level. In the conclusions, the researchers suggest cultural policy should be more closely integrated with education policy with an eye to the way technology changes expectations and mode of content delivery.

What I also found interesting was that income level doesn’t seem to have the same impact on attendance that education does for arts events and cultural site visits. Cinema is more price sensitive.

At the same time, the category of “recoverable non-attendee” (that is, a person who just feasibly might have attended an arts event) remains inflexible when income levels are raised, for both cultural-place visits and live performing arts attendance. The authors thus remark on the “clear polarization” among Spaniards when it comes to either high demand or absolute non-interest in these activities.

The way I read this was that people with high levels of education are more likely to attend regardless of income level. Whereas people of low education level don’t take on the characteristics shared by “recoverable” attendees as their income level rises. The first section I quoted above appears to say people with high levels of education become more likely to attend frequently as income goes up, but people with high levels of education and low income will have a tendency to attend at some point.

I scrutinized the original research report (which is in English) for a plain statement either supporting or refuting my reading of this, but I didn’t find a statement that clarified the matter for me.

What I was ultimately hoping to find was something that showed preference (or lack thereof) shaped by education was a greater barrier to participation than price. This would resonate with recent research results from a number of sources that suggest price isn’t as large a barrier as has been assumed.

A caveat to my caveats: While I continue to assert the differences between Spain and the U.S., the Spanish researchers themselves say their findings match that of U.S. researchers so don’t read my disclaimers as a diminishing the validity of the Spanish research on U.S. behavior.  I am just making it clear that I am not ignoring the distinction.

In the three activities, a very large group of absolute non-attendees is observed that it will be difficult to interest in cultural activities, especially in live performances and sites of cultural interest. This result is very general and similar to that obtained by Ateca Amestoy and Prieto Rodríguez (2013) for the United States.

But Will A Framed Canvas Fit Through The Book Return Slot?

Thanks to a partnership between the Akron Art Museum and the Akron-Summit County Public Library, not only can you get a book to place on the nightstand beside your bed, you can also get a painting to hang over your bed.

According to a recent article, the museum is creating the Akron Art Library in the Akron-Summit County Public Library Main Library. Patrons can view the art and then use their library card to borrow a work for four weeks and renew it up to five times if no one else places a request for it.

“We want to show we can trust the public with works of art,” said Art Museum Director of Education Alison Caplan. “We want people to have that moment of ‘are you sure we can take this out?'”

Even so, the fine for not returning a borrowed piece is $500 and late fees run 50 cents per day, she said.

All the art available to borrow — paintings, drawings, photos and other two-dimensional work — is created by professional Northeast Ohio artists, many of whom have been featured at the museum.

“We tried to highlight artists that came from Akron and the region and have gone on to do great things,” Caplan said. “It’s a really good mix.”

If this sounds somewhat familiar to you, it might be because four years ago I wrote about how Oberlin College has been lending out priceless works by Dali, Picasso, Chagall, etc to their students since the 1940s.

Oberlin says they haven’t had anything damaged or stolen in all that time so the risk of allowing people to take art works home with them might not be as great as you might imagine. The museum’s focus on circulating works by regional artists can help cultivate an awareness and appreciation that there are well regarded creative people perusing produce at the supermarket and laughing too loudly behind them in the movie theater.

Not to mention the Art Library program reinforces the idea that your home is an appropriate place for art that appears in a museum and that access to such work is within your reach.

I wonder if they have/will start a children’s section so kids can follow the example of their parents and check out something to hang on their walls as well.

A Bird In The Hand Is Worth More Than Two In Computer Memory

Roger Tomilson tweeted about Harvard Business Review article that provides some food for thought about how people might experience arts and culture.

I’ll jump right to a quote since the article title, “Customers Won’t Pay as Much for Digital Goods — and Research Explains Why,” pretty much provides the all the introduction you need.

The greater value ascribed to physical than digital goods persisted when we accounted for people’s estimates of production costs and retail prices. It even held for goods with no resale value. Plausible alternative explanations, such as physical goods lasting longer or being more enjoyable to use than digital goods, also failed to explain this difference.

Only a difference in the extent to which people feel a sense of ownership for digital and physical objects explained their preference for the physical format. Indeed, the value gap disappeared for goods participants rented and expected to give back.


Because ownership entails a link between a person and an object, we found the gap in their value increased when that link was easy to form and disappeared when that link was hard to establish. Participants valued a physical copy of The Empire Strikes Back more than a digital copy, for instance, only if they considered the Star Wars series to be films with which they strongly identified. Participants who weren’t Star Wars fans valued physical and digital copies similarly.

To summarize: People value physical objects more than digital ones when the object represents something with which they closely identify, even if it has no monetary value, if they don’t have to give it back.

As much as I would like it to, this doesn’t really address whether people value physical encounters with transitory experiences like attending a performance or visiting a museum versus seeing a recording or a digital copy of a piece of visual art.

Even if I did try to wedge a rationalization in there, we’d still be left with the finding that, regardless of format, people place an equal value on things they don’t feel are relevant to them. Which means, people won’t automatically start to value art if they experience the physical manifestation. (You probably didn’t need research to tell you that.)

What I wondered is whether having something physical to take away from the experience facilitates in creating more value for people. Do well designed, informative playbills/programs/information sheets/gallery maps, etc help to solidify value for people even if they ultimately decide to toss it? Versus nothing or an digital media tour that is only available at the venue.

If so, does the effect increase if a hand-on activity is provided which produces something people can take with them? Is a link forged when someone executes an expression of personal creativity? It may have no value to anyone else but it is simultaneously allowing people to participate in the creative process and generating a physical manifestation connected to the experience.

Does this provide a greater  sense of ownership and investment in the experience?

And if you are nodding affirmatively and thinking “yes” to yourself, here is the next question – Where do selfie pictures fit in?

They are creative expressions but in digital form.  Research has shown people feel selfies and digital recording  enhance the experience…they just can’t accurately remember the content of the experience.  One potential way to mitigate this is to offer background and props for people to use in selfies as a way of saying, “we would prefer you not use your devices during the show, but we want you to remember this experience.”

Thoughts? Opinions? Ideas?

I would be interested to see if the presence of a gift shop/souvenirs increases value for people over places that don’t offer them. How many of you would stock cheesy snowglobes if there was a correlation with increased return visits in a 5 year period?

Fingerpainting As A Gateway Drug To Better Health

Head over to CityLab and read an interesting piece about how Minneapolis health clinic used pop-up art stations to provide services in their community.

People’s Center Health Services hired 16-17 artists to spend a few hours every Thursday over a summer in an attempt to “…engage with the community about health in a less disease-focused and more organic way.”

Part of the People’s Center’s mission is to engage its community in health education and outreach. But it has found that more traditional mechanisms like classes and workshops had not been well attended.

“If you invite people to a class on health, no one will show up because it’s boring,” said CEO of People’s Center Clinics & Services Sahra Noor.


The People’s Center asked the artists to engage with those who sought treatment at the clinic, as well as staff and passersby. In addition to Hirschmugl’s trailer, pop-ups included a ping pong table, letterpress station, and tented spa offering facials and tea.


”You’re doing the art sitting next to people and you start talking to each other,” Shella said. “It creates community and is therapeutic in the sense that the hospital becomes less sterile—it gives it a sense of beauty and helps people feel more at peace and connected to others.”

Shella said that such activities have emerged from health care providers’ desire to give patients a positive experience. This means seeing them as “whole people,” not just a specific problem or organ that needs fixing. “

The pop-ups did have a health focused element that they tried to get people to respond to, but everything was offered in a low-key manner without much pressure. The goal seemed to be to get people to have positive social and trusting relationships with the clinic so they will feel comfortable coming to discuss physical and mental health questions at a later date versus getting participants to commit to any immediate changes in behavior regarding their health.

Though the pop-ups weren’t just about making people feel more comfortable about approaching the clinic for services. Those with appointments at the clinic had the opportunity wait in a more relaxed environment than the typical waiting room.

Being an old hand at the grant writing game, I was particularly sensitive to the discussion of outcomes and impact in the article. I don’t know what the appropriate organization is going to write in their grant report, but Mimi Kirk, who authored the CityLab piece, seems to feel that the clear quality of the program outweighs an attempt to quantify the value in numbers.

It’s hard to quantify the pop-up’s impact. While more than 500 people participated, and an evaluator reported that as many as 30 people would cluster at a popular station at any given time, Noor said it’s not possible to gauge whether the people will now use the center’s services more or if they feel differently about the space.

But Noor and others felt the pop-ups were a success based on their observations. Laura Zabel, the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, the organization that facilitated the artists’ involvement, noticed that some participants who had brought a child to an appointment would go home afterward, fetch their other children, and bring them back for the fun.

And Noor said that when she would leave work at 7 p.m.—two hours after the clinic closed—kids would still be playing outside, their parents talking to the artists. “The artists needed to leave, but they didn’t, because people were enjoying themselves,” she said. “I had feared we were forcing people to engage, but I realized that people want this.”

By the way, Laura Zabel wrote about this project for Shelterforce in the context of similar work Springboard for the Arts is doing around Minnesota. I wouldn’t have made the connection except both articles used to same image and it drove me crazy trying to figure out where I had seen it before.

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