Local Arts Index: Museums, Zoos, Libraries, and More

Posted by Randy I. Cohen, Jul 09, 2012 0 comments

Randy Cohen Randy Cohen

This post is one in a series highlighting the Local Arts Index (LAI) by Americans for the Arts. The LAI provides a set of measures to help understand the breadth, depth, and character of the cultural life of a community. It provides county-level data about arts participation, funding, fiscal health, competitiveness, and more. Check out your county and compare it to any of the nation’s 3,143 counties at ArtsIndexUSA.org.

One approach to the Local Arts Index is through examining groups of indicators that address related subjects, such as museums and collections.

If you look around your community or your region, you’ll probably see that there are various museums to see—museums of art, science, history, and more. And there are other kinds of collections on display, living collections of animals and plants. Perhaps you have visited one of these museums in your community in the past few months. Or a zoo, arboretum, or botanical garden with your family and/friends to enjoy the outdoors but to appreciate how the items are presented and displayed. Perhaps these are some of the places you think of as a routine part of the life in your community or places to go when you are a local guide to family or friends in from out of town.

We think of these collections-based organizations as contributing to a community’s arts in culture in two ways. One is as resources for culture and learning, a second is in their roles as destinations for visitors.

Earlier this year, we released an indicator on the adult population visiting art museums. More recently, we released four additional indicators that measure collections-based organizations where you live. These organizations and institutions that are based on a collection—historical, canonic, living—are deeply rooted in our communities and provide places for reflection, learning, observing, and enjoyment.

Here’s some info on those four:

First, you get a sense of how many organizations have met the rigorous standards of accreditation through the American Association of Museums 9AAM). This indicator measures museums per capita for each county that has passed the AAM accreditation program. There were about 800 such museums in late 2010, so necessarily they are not found in every county. It is scaled to show the number of such museums per 100,000 county residents.

There are many thousands of museums that are not accredited but still provide outstanding cultural services. A second measure looks at the total number of collections-based nonprofits in your community. This indicator groups those nonprofits, whether accredited or not, and includes museums focused on art, children, history, science and technology, and natural science. Also included are organizations focused on living collections—zoos, botanical gardens, and arboreta. Libraries are included as collection-based organizations as well. All of these are 501(c)3 nonprofits that filed Form 990 in 2009. The indicator shows how many there are for every 100,000 county residents.

Are there other visual arts organizations in your community? They may not be based on a specific collection but are an important element in the cultural ecology. Visual arts organizations in a community are typically sites for education, display, and promotion of specific visual arts genres and styles. They may provide technical assistance, promotion, and representation to individual visual artists, or be centers of education or mentorship in the visual arts. So one can begin to a broader picture of the visual arts through museums, museum attendance, visual arts organizations and collection-based entities. These are also from 2009, and are also presented per capita.

Finally, we look at the estimated percentage of the adult population visiting a zoo one or more time in the past year. Note that the zoo they visited may not be one in their own county; after all, sometimes you are the visitor from out of town who goes to the zoo when you travel!

These four indicators, along with the population share visiting a museum, provide a more detailed picture of the vibrancy, depth and character of arts and culture where you live.

Soon to join these indicators is a set that illustrate the performing arts in communities. We are releasing additional indicators once a week or so—check the website often for the most recent updates at www.artsindexusa.org. Make sure to visit the Where I Live page to see how your community may compare to others.

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