March 29, 2001
Vol. 20 No. 13

current issue
archive / search

    Cultural Policy Program supports new research that measures arts, culture

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    The Cultural Policy Program, a joint initiative of the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies and the Division of the Humanities, is a unique interdisciplinary collaboration between humanists and empirically trained social scientists. University scholars are conducting long-term, comprehensive research on arts and culture that has immediate usefulness to cultural organizations in Chicago and throughout the United States.

    “The research being conducted here is lasting and practical–highly valuable to the survival of cultural organizations in the city of Chicago as well as those in other metropolitan areas across the country,” said Carroll Joynes, Executive Director of the Cultural Policy Program.

    Don Coursey, the Ameritech Professor in the Harris School, launched one of the first studies in the program–with William Brown, Professor in English Language & Literature–to measure the health of culture from an ecosystem perspective. “Statistical research in cultural policy faces many of the same challenges that researchers first faced when trying to place values on the environment in the early 1980s,” explained Coursey.

    A noted researcher on environmental policy, Coursey is leading the groundbreaking pilot project “Measuring the Health of Our Common Culture,” which will involve researching the cultural choices of a sample of Chicago-area residents to generate a cultural map of the region. The results will provide empirical data for cultural policymakers in government, arts organizations, foundations and elsewhere to inform their decisions about the allocation of resources for arts and culture.

    Colm O’Muircheartaigh, Professor in the Harris School and Vice President for Statistics and Methodology at the National Opinion Research Center at the University, has launched an equally innovative research effort to measure the nature of people’s aesthetic responses to works of art. His project will harness the expertise of museum practitioners, social scientists and psychologists to devise a method to measure aesthetic preferences. His pilot project, “Measuring the Aesthetic Experience,” will focus on the visual arts, and in particular the attitudinal, behavioral and physiological response evoked by a work of art.

    O’Muircheartaigh noted that “without reliable and valuable data about the responses of their visitors, museum professionals cannot evaluate how well they fulfill their missions. Without this kind of data, cultural professionals in general cannot coherently communicate about what effectiveness means in the intangible context of aesthetic experience.”

    As part of the program’s research dissemination, scholars presented “Measuring the Effects of Arts and Culture” a series of three, three-hour research briefings, which culminate today at the Gleacher Center with a presentation by Coursey and O’Muircheartaigh titled “Getting Down to the Basics: Fundamental Research into Cultural Preferences and Success.” President Randel will join representatives from public and private arts organizations in Chicago and elsewhere at today’s presentation.

    Also participating in the briefings were scholars from the Rand Corporation, the Urban Institute, the Field Museum and Columbia College’s Chicago Center for Arts and Policy. The ongoing research by the Rand Corporation was commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts and is a major national study for the future of the performing arts in the United States. The research is of particular interest in Chicago where there are more than 150 theater companies, among many other performing arts organizations.

    Lawrence Rothfield, Professor in English Language & Literature and Comparative Literature and Faculty Director of the Cultural Policy Program, noted, “We have sought broad participation in these briefings: foundation officers; leaders of cultural institutions that have a stake in knowing what people are prognosticating about their futures and in knowing how they can get hooked into the development of communities; and city planners from the mayor’s office and the Illinois Humanities Council.”

    Joynes added, “We also want to attract students who could find this field worth pursuing as a scholarly career.”