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Despite recession, respondents report rising importance for cultural activity in their daily lives

May 19, 2011
Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
1616 Walnut St., Suite 600
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Contact: Karim Olaechea

Philadelphia - The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has released the results of the second Cultural Engagement Index (CEI) survey, which finds an 11% increase in cultural engagement since the last survey in 2008. Overall CEI scores went up in 8 of the 9 components surveyed. The exception was the consumption of popular media, which remained flat. Particularly high CEI scores were seen for younger respondents (18-34), families with children; African-American and Hispanic respondents; and those active in theater, visual arts and online creative activities.

“Clearly residents care deeply about arts and culture,” said Tom Kaiden, President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. “During tough times, we reevaluate what matters most. Culture provides us with the insight and creative outlet to envision a better future.”

Unlike other studies of arts participation, the CEI surveys the general population of Greater Philadelphia, not just current arts attendees. The CEI score factors in both frequency of participation and the importance of the activity to the respondent. Overall, frequency was stable for most activities from 2008 to 2010 but the importance that respondents attach to some cultural activities increased significantly, helping to drive the index from 100 in 2008 (the baseline year) to 111 in 2010. Over 3,000 residents in 220 zip codes in Greater Philadelphia completed the survey, answering detailed questions on 52 different creative activities.

The CEI asks questions about audience-based attendance in traditional cultural activities (including attendance at live performing arts, museums, and community events), as well as questions about personal practice activities (including creating music or dance, painting or drawing, writing in journals or blogs, and sharing photos, music or videos online).

This year’s results provide additional insight on the different patterns of cultural engagement between subsets of survey respondents, based on factors such as age, lifestyle groups, race and education. For example, engagement was highest for Hispanic and younger audiences 18-34, and both groups also had the highest scores for personal creative practice such as composing music, dancing, and taking photography.

“This research suggests multiple avenues for increasing cultural participation, “said Alan Brown, the study’s principal investigator. “Making connections between different groupings of activities – for example, between museum attendance and taking photographs – is key to engaging the community and increasing participation. This research affords Philadelphia’s arts, culture and heritage organizations with a rare opportunity to more fully understand their place in the larger ecosystem, and to see new opportunities.”

Other key findings included:

  • Significant gains were reported for dance, theatre, visual arts and online activities. While the reported frequency of doing dance activities did not gain in frequency between 2008 and 2010, significantly more respondents in 2010 attach importance to a range of dance activities. For example, the percentage of respondents who said that “dancing socially at night clubs or parties” is “very important” to them jumped from 20% in 2008 to 28% in 2010, a year-over-year increase of 27%. Similarly large increases in importance were reported for “attend plays or musicals with professional actors,” “visit art museums or art galleries,” “make crafts of any kind,” and for all of the online creative activities tested, which also gained significantly in frequency.
  • Cultural engagement is highest for younger adults in the 18-34 age cohort. Younger survey respondents reported higher scores than their older counterparts, with some of the highest scores in both attendance and personal practice. Engagement then falls off for older cohorts, particularly because of a decline in personal practice activities. However, respondents aged 35-44 (Generation X) reported the highest overall attendance-based scores of any cohort.
  • Parents and caregivers of young children continue to take advantage of opportunities to engage their families in arts and cultural activities with an eye toward learning and nurturing experiences. Across lifestage groups, adults with children have more active creative lives than those without children. When asked why they take part in cultural activities, most cited a desire to “strengthen family relationships.” This is a critical time to more deeply engage adults in the creative development of their children.
  • Cultural Engagement increased for all ethnic and racial groups; however engagement levels for African-Americans and Hispanics increased more, and continue to be consistently higher than those for Whites. African-Americans saw large increases to already high levels of participation (African-American CEI scores increased 20% to 150 and Hispanics increased 16% to 131), with Hispanics representing the most engaged population with significantly higher rates of both personal practice and audience-based activity.
  • Active cultural participants place tremendous importance on the value of cultural activity, AND they vote. Higher civic engagement is directly correlated with higher cultural engagement. Respondents who participated in all five civic activities examined in the CEI (“socialize with neighbors”, “attend religious services”, “do volunteer work”, “have a library card” and “have voted in the last year”) scored three times higher for cultural engagement than those who reported no civic engagement activities.
  • Just as in 2008, men and women have different engagement patterns. Men are more active making original videos or film, composing music, and remixing material found online. Women are more engaged in painting and other original art creation, writing about their lives in journals or blogs, and attending professional dance performances. Both men and women saw large increases in engagement for attendance to live performing arts, and visits to art museums and galleries.
  • Personal practice activities continue to increase in importance. Respondents ascribed greater importance to the making and performance of artistic activities than they did in 2008. One possible implication is that, as cultural organizations look to increase attendance, they should explore ways of providing more participatory experiences to attract new audiences and more deeply engage current ones.
  • The totality of cultural engagement naturally subdivides into 12 groupings of activities. While most people think in terms of disciplines (i.e., music, dance, theatre, visual art, history and heritage, etc.), a deeper analysis reveals 12 natural groupings of activities such as: kinetic/oral arts practice, narrative arts practice, digital arts practice, attendance at art museums and film festivals, spiritual/worship-based cultural activities, etc. Finding “intersections” between these groupings of activities could lead to higher participation.
  • Despite the economic crisis, the CEI suggests that Philadelphia is more culturally vibrant than the nation as a whole. The 11% CEI increase, coupled with recent data from The Pew Charitable Trusts Philadelphia Research Initiative (Philadelphia 2011: State of the City) documenting a 7% increase in attendance at Philadelphia county nonprofit cultural organizations from 2005 to 2009, demonstrate an increase in Philadelphia’s vibrancy. At the same time, national studies have shown general declines: American’s for the Arts National Arts Index has declined every year since 2007 and the most recent National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts reported a 5% drop.

For more information, see the full report, available for download from

The CEI is an ongoing inclusive measurement of cultural engagement in Greater Philadelphia. Its objectives are to:

  • Stimulate innovation
  • Track engagement over time
  • Inform cultural policy
  • Reinforce culture as a recognized and valued component of a region’s quality of life
  • Expose opportunities for increasing cultural engagement

The survey is conducted at regular intervals to track changes to the index over time. The 2010 and 2008 Cultural Engagement Index were conducted by the Cultural Alliance and guided by researcher Alan Brown of the research firm WolfBrown ( It includes questions on demographics, cultural activities, arts learning indicators and civic engagement. A copy of the survey form, the full report and additional material is available at

The survey results are a representative sample of all adults 18+ in Greater Philadelphia. In 2010, 3036 surveys were collected in all 202 zip codes within a 20-mile radius of downtown Philadelphia.

Engage 2020
The Cultural Engagement Index is part of a larger project of the Cultural Alliance, Engage 2020. Engage 2020 is focused on doubling cultural participation in Greater Philadelphia by 2020 and will focus on three key strategies:

  • Conducting and analyzing research on emerging patterns of cultural activity, demographic change, and consumer behavior.
  • Stimulating learning and collaboration among the region’s culture sector by the dissemination of findings from our research and sharing leading thought from some of the nation’s most creative minds.
  • Providing marketing resources for the field and introducing and applying new technologies on behalf of the local cultural sector to reduce barriers to audience participation, such as high ticket costs and lack of access to information.

The Cultural Engagement Index (CEI) is part of Engage 2020, an initiative focused on doubling cultural engagement in Greater Philadelphia by 2020. Engage 2020 is sponsored by a lead grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, with additional support from The Wallace Foundation and The Philadelphia Foundation.

About the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance
The mission of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is to make Philadelphia and its suburban counties one of the foremost creative regions in the world. The Cultural Alliance believes that the Greater Philadelphia region grows stronger and more vibrant by growing its Arts & Culture. Representing more than 400 member institutions, with more than 19,000 employees and 24,000 volunteers, the Cultural Alliance is able to speak as one collective voice for the region’s cultural community. In addition to being a vocal advocate for the arts, the Cultural Alliance also offers member organizations an array of research, business management and marketing services specifically designed to help the sector expand the impact of its work for the region. Information on the Cultural Alliance is available at