The National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at Southern Methodist University has released its first Arts Vibrancy Index, a report that ranks the cultural vibrancy of communities across the country. The index measures vibrancy in terms of “supply, demand, and government support for arts and culture” per capita, according to the press release issued by the NCAR. The number of artists and artistic organizations in a community, the amount of nonprofit funding available for cultural events, and the value of state and federal grants for the arts are all relevant factors. The index is comprehensive, providing a ranked score for each county in the US and an interactive “heat map” depicting the greatest concentrations of art in the country.
NCAR Director Dr. Zannie Giraud Voss says the center began developing the project last spring as a way of making information about the comparative health of American arts communities available to cultural leaders. She told Hyperallergic that she hopes the index will allow communities to assess their standing relative to others, providing them with models for improvement.
Although different cities and communities are vibrant in different ways, scoring comparatively better or worse on varying metrics, some of the likely suspects came out on top: among the highest-ranking large “markets,” defined as urban centers “with populations of 1 million or more,” are Washington DC, Nashville, New York, Boston, and San Francisco. DC tops the list because it receives so much federal funding: it ranks #1 in the “Art Dollars” category. Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, are among the most vibrant of the smaller cities.
The Arts Vibrancy Index admits to its own limitations, acknowledging that its per-capita measurements can produce counterintuitive results and that its metrics do not reflect the quality of the art in question. The report stresses that its findings are “the start of the story, not the end.”
Hopefully, having access to quantitative data can set us up to have more informed discussions about quality, precipitating a greater conversation about what we want artistic vibrancy to look like in our communities.