Cultivating Demand for the Arts

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 Cultivating Demand for the Arts

This chapter addresses our first research question: What role does demand play in a vibrant nonprofit cultural sector? We begin by describing the interaction between those who create works of art and those who respond to them as a communicative cycle that creates benefits for those engaged in the cycle and for the public at large. We then describe the different individual and institutional actors that sustain both the demand and the supply components of the cycle. Finally, we identify the conditions that need to be met for the cycle to function effectively and propose that cultural policy focus on meeting these conditions.

Art as Communicative Experience

To understand the role of supply and demand in the arts, it is important to establish that a work of art can be seen as a form of communication, designed to be experienced and interpreted by persons other than its creator. The process, illustrated in Figure 2.1, begins with artistic creation, an act in which the artist draws on two highly developed gifts: a capacity for vivid perceptions of the world, including his or her inner world, and an ability—imaginative, intellectual, and technical—to communicate ideas and feelings through a particular art form, thereby bringing them from the private to the public realm where they can be experienced, reflected on, and shared by others. Eisner (1991, p. 2) describes the public contributions of the arts in this way: “The arts and the humanities have provided a long tradition of ways of describing, interpreting, and appraising the world: history, art, literature, dance, drama, poetry, and music are among the most important forms through which humans have represented and shaped their experience.”

As the figure illustrates, the communicative cycle requires more than just the artist and work of art. The communicative potential of the created artwork is realized only when individuals experience the work in a way that engages their emotions, stimulates their senses, and challenges their minds to a process of discovery—the kind of occurrence traditionally referred to as an aesthetic experience.1 Unlike other forms of communication, which are delivered in terms of concepts and propositions grasped largely by the intellect, art engages the artist’s full range of human faculties during the creative process and has the power to arouse that same range in individuals who encounter the art (Dewey, [1934] 1980).2 Much has been written about the ways in which such experiences enhance individual lives, foster personal growth, and contribute to the public sphere.3 For our purposes, the important point is that these benefits depend on the existence of works of art, opportunities to encounter them, and individuals capable of being caught up and moved by works of art so that they develop the inclination to seek more such experiences.


The final component of the communicative process shown in Figure 2.1 is the critical response to art, which refers to the public discourse stimulated by the arts. Greene (2001, p. 50) writes that the arts “create a public space in which meanings are shared and perspectives expressed and clarified.” In other words, the communicative cycle encompasses more than just the communication between the artist and any single beholder. When one looks at a painting or sees a film, for example, even if alone, one is part of a community of viewers and can draw on others’ experiences for help in understanding and deepening one’s own experience. Such discourse takes place in many forms, from informal discussions among friends to the published work of reviewers and critics. Oakeshott and Fuller (1989) call this “the Great Conversation”; it includes artists, critics, teachers, and members of the public who have been talking and listening to one another, engaged in reconstructing the meaning of great works of art, sometimes for generations.

The critical response to art influences both the artistic experience of creating and the aesthetic experience of perceiving: It helps shape the cultural environment in which new art is made, and it helps members of the public reflect on and evaluate their own responses in light of the observations of others. Dewey ([1934] 1980) states that this link in the communicative cycle of art (see Figure 2.1) is critical to a vibrant culture in that it increases the value gained from any individual arts experience. Ciment and Kardish (2003), writing about the world of film and the discourse it inspires, agree: “Films alone do not make a culture resonant, but thinking, arguing, and writing about them, their makers, and their context do” (p. 6).

We propose, based on our study, that a vibrant culture results from the full functioning of this communicative cycle. The weakening of any links along the chain—the closing of organizations or the departure of individuals that provide high-quality art to the public, a decrease in the number and/or the capacity of individual appreciators of art, a lessening of opportunities to encounter works of art, a decrease in outlets for public discourse, or a decline in the quality of that discourse—will weaken the cultural sector and diminish its benefits to the public.

This communicative concept of works of art is helpful in understanding the role of demand because it highlights the individual encounter with a work of art, the aesthetic experience, as the critical nexus of supply and demand. “Cultivating demand,” according to this concept, is not primarily about creating better marketing campaigns and public outreach; but, rather, about providing individuals with the tools they need to have rich experiences with art—experiences so engaging that they will desire more of them.

Framework for Understanding Supply, Access, and Demand

Figure 2.2 illustrates the individual and institutional actors that make it possible for people to experience art in its many forms. At the center is where the individual who is seeking an arts experience (demand) encounters a work of art (supply). The work of art is made available through the efforts of a vast infrastructure of support for artistic production in the nonprofit, for-profit, public, and volunteer sectors (left side of the figure). This support infrastructure for supply includes the artists who create and perform works of art and the academies and university departments dedicated to increasing the number and quality of artists and artworks. It also includes a great range of other individuals and institutions that contribute to the supply of art and create the conditions under which artworks can be enjoyed: museums and galleries, ballet companies, recording studios, radio stations, theater groups, libraries and bookstores, arts service organizations, publishers, and consulting firms that serve arts organizations and government agencies.4 All of these belong to what Danto (1964, 1981) calls the “artworld.”


The support infrastructure for demand (right side of the figure) consists of the individuals and institutions that help draw people into engagement with the arts and teach them what to notice and value in arts encounters. The main actors in this realm are the K–12 public school system and the teachers who deliver education in music, the visual arts, dance, theater, literature, and film. Beyond these, there are instructors and teaching artists who operate outside the K–12 system and offer private lessons in the arts, and family members and friends who serve as mentors in the art forms they love. Also critical in cultivating demand are the colleges and universities that train arts specialists, teaching artists, general classroom teachers, and arts journalists, and those that offer basic arts education courses to general students and more-advanced courses to arts majors.

Funders and policymakers, including the NEA, private-sector foundations, and state and local arts agencies, use their financial and other assets to stimulate both sides of this framework. They support the supply infrastructure by offering grants to the various types of organizations and artists operating within that infrastructure in order to increase the quality and quantity of works of art. And they support the demand infrastructure through grants as well, primarily by funding artist residencies in schools and encouraging partnerships between schools and cultural institutions, but also, more recently, through programs to build the capacity of institutions and individuals (such as teachers and journalists) within the demand infrastructure. In addition to grantmaking, funders and policymakers use convenings, research, advocacy, and other policy tools to achieve their objectives.

One of the major objectives of both the NEA and state and local arts agencies is to improve access to the arts. As Figure 2.2 shows, individuals must have access to works of art in order to respond to them. Partly in response to public policies aimed at increasing and diversifying audiences for the arts, individuals and organizations on both sides of the framework, but particularly on the supply side, have instituted strategies to increase participation by improving access to the arts. A theater company touring a rural part of the state, a modern dance company offering subsidized tickets to college students, an art museum opening an adjunct gallery in a distant suburb, performing arts groups offering concerts and plays in schools and community venues—all of these are strategies aimed at removing practical barriers to accessing the arts.5

It is important to recognize, however, as McCarthy and Jinnett (2001) point out, that there are two kinds of barriers to arts involvement: practical barriers and perceptual barriers. Practical barriers—high cost, inconvenient location, lack of information, scheduling conflicts, etc.—diminish participation by people who are inclined to participate. Perceptual barriers—inexperience with and ignorance about the arts, social norms that stigmatize the arts, etc.—inhibit interest in and create resistance to participation. Marketing campaigns are typically designed to promote access to arts events by mitigating the practical barriers that prevent individuals who are inclined to participate from doing so. But such campaigns are typically ineffective at increasing the participation of people with little interest in or knowledge about the arts (McCarthy and Jinnett, 2001).

One final point about the framework for supply and demand is that various individuals and institutions play a role in both support infrastructures. Many artists also teach the arts; many teachers also create art. Many arts organizations whose mission is primarily to provide the arts to the public also offer educational programs. And almost all museums have a strong educational function that coexists with their mission to acquire, preserve, and display works of art. But despite such overlaps, the majority of individuals and organizations have missions that place them primarily on one side or the other. Higher education is the exception in that it plays a crucial role on both sides: on the supply side, increasing the number and quality of artists and often serving as the central provider of performing arts in communities across the country; on the demand side, training arts specialists and offering arts education courses for general students.

Implications for Cultural Policy

The framework described above and shown in Figure 2.2 implies that the focus of cultural policy should be on maximizing the interactions between supply and demand—in other words, increasing the number and quality of aesthetic experiences—rather than on simply maximizing the number and quality of works of art. Beardsley (1982) proposes three conditions that must be met for an aesthetic experience to occur:

  1. The work of art needs to provide the potential for an engaging experience.
  2. The individual beholder must have the opportunity to encounter such works of art. That is, the quantity and dispersion of works of art judged to be of high quality must be sufficient to provide the public with reasonable access to them
  3. The individual beholder must have the capacity to be moved by the expressive and intellectual qualities of a work of art, a capacity that typically comes from familiarity with an artistic form, such as dance, poetry, or painting..


If these three conditions are required to promote the spread of aesthetic experiences, cultural policies then need to have corresponding goals:

  • Increase the number of works of art that have the potential to provide an engaging arts experience. This goal calls for an increase in the supply of high-quality works of art, which has been a mandate of public funding at all levels of government since the late 1960s.

  • Promote the opportunity for citizens to encounter such works of art .This goal, which aims to improve the public’s access to works of art, calls for strategies affecting both arts providers and arts consumers. Increasing the geographic spread of high-quality artworks has also been the most important justification for passing funds from the NEA to the SAAs.

  • Cultivate the capacity of individuals to have engaging experiences with works of art. This goal calls for strategies designed specifically to produce general interest and engagement in the arts and to enrich the actual experience for individual participants, rather than to simply increase the audiences for arts events or museum collections.

The third objective, which is largely ignored in arts policy research, is the focus of this study.

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1. As we suggest in the next chapter, the concept of an aesthetic experience is particularly important to arts educators, whose work involves enabling students to have such experiences—that is, cultivating in students ways of perceiving and responding to works of art that enrich their lives. See Eaton and Moore, 2002, for an account of this concept, including modern philosophical debates about its validity.

2. Dewey states on p. 84: “Science states meanings; art expresses them.”

3. See McCarthy et al., 2004, for a synthesis of the research on both instrumental and intrinsic benefits of arts experiences.

4. Beardsley (1982, p. 120) calls these individuals and organizations “aesthetic auxiliaries.”

5. It should be noted that these strategies are often described as audience development. For example, Hager and Pollak (2002, p. 6) write: “Presenting organizations of all sizes are involved with a variety of audience development strategies, such as free performances, programs aimed at school-aged youth, and the dissemination of program notes. The use of audience development strategies increases with budget size, but even the presenters with the smallest budgets display a range of audience development efforts.” Our concept of cultivating demand should not be confused with audience development of this kind.