This report outlines the history of state arts agencies (SAAs), which are major sources of government funding for the arts, since their inception in the 1960s. It sheds light on why, even though many SAAs are trying to reach beyond their traditional grantee constituencies, there is a perception—if not the fact—that SAAs primarily serve artists and arts organizations rather than the broader public. In brief, the history goes like this, according to the report:

  • 1960s: SAAs generally operate on “elite” assumptions, including the idea that support for “great art” should be their first priority.
  • 1970s: A “populist revolution” occurs, introducing the idea that significant artistic endeavors originating outside the mainstream are being ignored, and that SAAs are limited in their view of the ways in which Americans can benefit from the arts.
  • 1980s: Economic turmoil leads to budget crises. SAAs continue to straddle the populist vision of funding a diversity of artistic expression and the elite vision of giving grants to encourage artistic excellence. Their funding is weighted toward producing art, not building audiences.
  • 1990s to early 2000s: SAAs begin grappling with “near irrelevancy” to political establishments and citizens. Surveys show that most citizens and many artists do not even realize their state has an SAA.

The report was commissioned by Wallace as part of its START (State Arts Partnerships for Cultural Participation) initiative, which was designed to help SAAs develop more effective strategies for encouraging participation in the arts. The publication is the first in a series of RAND reports on SAAs.

 Points of Interest

  • Getting art to the people: When the Ohio Arts Council found that churches were the top gathering place in many communities, it formed the Faith-Based Institution Performing Arts Touring Program. Result: near-capacity attendance. Some 50 percent of attendees said having the event in a church or synagogue influenced their decision to attend.
    Ohio-ans gather often in houses of worship; the state arts council brought art to them. Result: Near-capacity crowds.
  • A RAND study poses a question for state arts agencies: What is government’s proper role in supporting the arts in a pluralistic democracy?
    A question for state #arts agencies: What is the proper role of government in supporting the arts?