Using the National Arts Index to Start New Conversations

Posted by Alan Brown, Jan 26, 2010 1 comment

As Bill Ivey says, “policy accretes around bodies of data.” If we can develop commonly-accepted metrics for characterizing cultural vitality, then we stand a better chance of influencing policy. You can’t win the game if you don’t know the score. And, if you are filling a void of scorekeeping, then you get to shape the rules for scorekeeping, which means you can change the conversation.  I see the National Arts Index (NAI) as a major step forward on a longer pathway of developing a set of generally accepted standards for assessing cultural vitality in communities, regions and the country. The Urban Institute has already done a lot of forward thinking about the topic, which you can read about here. What matters the most, however, is not the data itself, but the conversation that happens around the data and the extent to which the NAI can be used to galvanize discussion amongst people who can actually change policy.

When the NAI was discussed at the Grantmakers in the Arts conference back in October, it was interesting to see how some people immediately looked through the list of the 76 indicators to see what was included and what was not included. For example, one person pointed out that the NAI includes just one indicator of arts creation (i.e., “participation in music making, painting, drawing, and/or photography”). There are no indicators, for example, of the numbers of people who sing in choirs, or who compose music on GarageBand, or who belly dance.  Those types of data points simply aren’t available, or would cost a lot to generate. But what is the cost of not including them in the national conversation about cultural vitality? This is the risk associated with any aggregate measure like the NAI.

We might see a decline of activity in the part of the system that we’re measuring, but miss a rise of activity in another part of the system that we’re not measuring.  So it’s incredibly important that we use the NAI to build consensus around “what is cultural vitality” and what should be tracked, so we can continuously improve the measurement system and gain a holistic view of the cultural system that will enrich policy discussions in communities across the country. Without a commonly-accepted measurement system, we will never realize the level of public support we aspire to have.

You may recall how Richard Florida’s scorekeeping rubric for creative economies changed the conversation amongst civic leaders, in part because he produced a quantitative measurement system that policymakers could believe in, and that motivated them to ‘win the game.’ It tapped into a competitive streak amongst communities. Whether or not you agree with his model, he changed the policy conversation. I envision a time, maybe 10 or 15 years from now, when communities across the country strive to increase their ‘creative vitality index’ in order to be competitive, because it’s a generally accepted component of quality of life. The National Arts Index is a huge step forward.

1 responses for Using the National Arts Index to Start New Conversations


January 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Readers of this artblog: Please does anyone have any good suggestions/ideas fo funds to help with this culmination?
Iron Range Veterans Memorial (non profit volunteer/not a veterans organization)

Box 35, Virginia, Mn. 55792

Charlene Luoma


“Shoulder to Shoulder/ Even the Fallen Stand Tall” IRVM/public art

The Crucible Foundry, Norman, Oklahoma ( has given a projected completion of spring 2010 for the IRVM sculpture designed and executed by Gareth Andrews, Zim, Mn ( Phase I (approximately $ 100,000) of the project (over a 10 yr. period) is complete and debt free. We are now in the final work of Phase II ($ 856,750 including foundry costs, artist fees, freight and installation)( Iron Range Veterans Memorial). We currently are planning and organizing the freight, travel expenses and installation portion of the project. Since we have managed to gather and pay bills regarding the project through donations, grants, fund raisers etc., we now find ourselves with a shortfall of approximately $140,000 - $150,000. It depends on the amount of in kind donations that are being offered and if they pan out, that will reduce some of the figures.
In 1998, we were formed as a non profit 9 person volunteer non profit committee. We have met EVERY bill in the almost 11 year period but now find ourselves with a shortfall for the first time.
The project is: artist fees, foundry fees (Crucible Foundry, Norman, Oklahoma for metal pours, cleaning, welding, tacking and assemblage of the 9 ton bronze. Next are the labor costs for 4 men that will cover the assemblage of tacking, welding, cutting, grinding and heating to establish patina.
At this writing, we have plans with the National Guard (Oklahoma) for transportation. If that works out, the cost of $12,500 freight will not be needed. We also have some local trucking offers if need be for local transfer.Overall quote for installation is $ 20,000. We have in kind of a crane valued at $8,000, hope to seek lodging and meals as in kind as we move closer to the date of arrival and the city of Virginia will provide water and electricity necessary for installation. The foundry workers will bring their own work truck and there is not a need for tool rental consequently. All of these offers/in kind greatly help to defray costs but there still is the outstanding shortfall to address. $12,000.
The end result will be a magnificent 26’ by 16’ bronze sculpture (9 ton) located in a handicapped accessible city park that pays tribute to the Iron Range veterans who have served, received injuries, and in some extreme cases, given the ultimate sacrifice. The park will be at all times open to the public and free of charge. It should be a definite tourist attraction , economic plus to the area and the foundry describes it as a “masterpiece” worthy of national recognition. Please help as it will be greatly appreciated.
Iron Range (Cotton/Duluth to Ely) and the North Shore to Grand Rapids approximately in geographic coverage. Thank you for your time.
Charlene Luoma
co chair IRVM

Other revenue sources:
Total in checking $ 6,798.37
Total in savings: $13,016.14

Original foundry quote: $ 674,250
Total paid to foundry to date: $ 612,000
Total paid to artist: $ 89,000
Balance due to artist: $ 71,000

P.S. table top version of the "Shoulder to Shoulder" bronze sculpture can be seen on display in a showing of Gareth Andrew's bronzes in Concourse C, Lindbergh Terminal, Minneapolis Airport through the Minneapolis Airport Foundation.

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