Cultural Policy Center’s research continues to flourish with help from Harris grantBy Peter Schuler
Five years after its founding, the Cultural Policy Center, in the words of philanthropist and arts activist Joan Harris, “has achieved enormous success in addressing many of the important aspects of the role of culture in our time, in building bridges, and in preparing many of its students to take leadership roles.” Joan and her husband, Irving, recently made a three-year grant of $200,000 to sustain the Cultural Policy Center for its next phase of growth, and they have in the past provided the center with fellowship and operating grants.
The Cultural Policy Center has become “the largest and most ecumenical group of faculty in the United States engaged in cultural research and training, with the most rigorously scientific orientation,” said Lawrence Rothfield, Faculty Director of the Cultural Policy Center and Associate Professor in English Language & Literature and the College. “We bring together experts in sociology, economics, survey research, statistics, law, anthropology, history and cultural studies to share insights across scholarly boundaries and to engage with practitioners to find long-term answers to how the cultural sector works and how it affects individuals and communities.”
The Cultural Policy Center is an interdisciplinary initiative of the Division of the Humanities and the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, where the Center is housed and which is named for its chief founding benefactor. The Harrises are among the foremost patrons of the arts in the city, most recently funding the Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago’s new Millennium Park. Joan Harris, who is the city’s former Commissioner for Cultural Affairs, has served in numerous other leadership roles in the arts throughout her life.
The center is now training 13 graduate research assistants at the Harris School with a number of other Harris students also involved in its research. “This is an emerging field, and we hope this generation of graduate students will help define it,” Rothfield said. In the spring, the Cultural Policy Center will hold a conference where emerging scholars from across the United States, including the center’s own graduate research assistants, will present their work in cultural policy.
The city of Chicago has been consistently involved with the center’s initiatives. “We are thrilled to have the Cultural Policy Center as a partner in our efforts,” said Julie Burros, Director of Cultural Planning in the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, and co-director of “Advancing Chicago’s Civic Agenda Through the Arts” project. “In particular, the research project to define and measure the ‘creative industries’ in Chicago is a fundamental step in the creation of economic development support, and we would not have been able to do this without the center’s help.”
The Cultural Policy Center’s other current research projects are “An Impact Study of the Garfield Park Conservatory Chihuly Show;” “Social Capital and Public Support for the Arts;” “Debating the Art Museum: An Anthology;” “The Program of State Cultural Policy Reviews;” “Measuring the Health of our Common Culture;” and “Measuring Aesthetic Responses.”
The center’s well-received and well-attended conferences draw participants from across the spectrum of the arts, with upcoming conference topics that will examine the future of public television, the economic impact of the cultural sector in Chicago and the destruction of archeological sites in Iraq.
A Cultural Policy Center book, Mapping State Cultural Policy: The State of Washington, which will be published in February and was edited by Mark Schuster, a professor of urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers the findings of a research team’s two-year study to map comprehensively how one state government supports cultural life.
“Over time, the issue of cultural policy began to appear on the agendas of several organizations: arts advocacy organizations, institutions of higher learning and dedicated policy centers,” said Joan Harris. “Good work was being done, but there was little cohesion among the various efforts. I came to believe that a strong cultural policy center should be created at an institution with considerable intellectual heft.”
“The importance of culture to everyday life is under-valued and under-studied,” said Susan Mayer, Associate Professor and Dean of the Harris School. “Once again the Harris School and the entire University is the beneficiary of the great vision and dedication of Joan and Irving Harris. The work that is done through the Cultural Policy Center will have a great payoff.”
Carroll Joynes, who founded the Cultural Policy Center with Rothfield and who is the center’s Executive Director, praised the Harrises for “their deep understanding of how an independent research center can help provide the information and analysis necessary to understand the role of the arts and culture in our society.
“And the University,” Joynes said, “is perhaps the perfect site for such a center because it’s such an extraordinarily interdisciplinary culture.”