The Arts and Social Health: Tracking the American Experience

Dr. Marque-Luisa Miringoff
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For the past twenty years, the Institute for Innovation in Social Policy has monitored the social conditions of the United States through its annual Index of Social Health, focusing on such problems as infant mortality, youth suicide, poverty, etc. More recently, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute has begun the process of regularly monitoring not only the deficits of social health, but the assets, through a National Social Survey of arts participation.

Our report on the National Social Survey, “Arts, Culture, and the Social Health of the Nation,” has been issued twice, in 2003 and 2005. It has begun to reveal important patterns in the way Americans value the arts, the degree to which they participate, the role the arts play in the lives of children, and the disparities in social class participation.

Overall, we found a deep commitment to the arts on the part of the American public, both for themselves and for their families. We also found that participation has declined slightly in recent years, and that serious obstacles exist which limit participation, including financial resources, time, and access. The deep income differences that exist in the U.S. show up distinctly in terms of arts participation, but not at all in the degree of significance the social classes attribute to the arts.

It is important that the social health of a nation be defined, not only in terms of social problems, but also in terms of the richness and accessibility of artistic and cultural institutions. It is equally important that the public’s engagement with those institutions be routinely monitored, in the same way we regularly track economic indicators such as the GDP or consumer confidence, so that the public and policy-makers have a clear sense of the vitality of those institutions.

Keywords: Social Survey, Arts Participation
Stream: Art in Communities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Marque-Luisa Miringoff

Professor, Sociology Department, Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, New York, USA

Marque-Luisa Miringoff, Ph.D., is Professor of Sociology at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, and director of the Institute for Innovation in Social Policy. She has served as Chair of the Sociology Department and Director of the Urban Studies Program at Vassar College. She is co-author, with Marc Miringoff and Sandra Opdycke, of The Social Health of the Nation: How America Is Really Doing (Oxford University Press, 1999) and helped lead the team that developed the nationally-known Index of Social Health as well as The Social State of Connecticut; The National Social Survey; The Social Health of the States; The Social Report; Arts, Culture, and the Social Health of the Nation; and the Profile of Participation in Arts and Culture in New York City.

Ref: A06P0378