Mapping State Cultural Policy

The State of Washington

2003, 232 pages, $20.00. Cultural Policy Center, The Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago, 1155 East 60th St., #157, Chicago, IL 60637-2745, (773) 702-4407

Often the focus of studies on cultural impacts is on cities—the national centers of culture such as New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC, or the regional arts centers such as San Antonio, Minneapolis, or Seattle. Indeed, an explosion of attention followed Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class which indicated that cities with strong arts production attract highly skilled workers, leading, in turn, to stronger local economies. Major foundations are located in major cities and tend to focus on their city's arts and culture as an aggregate of dramatic and diverse subcultures.

But whither the states? Although state arts commissions and federal funding for statewide arts grant programs began at roughly the same time as major city and county arts commissions, they often exist as a backdrop or a pale overarching superstructure. The lack of sharp perspective results partly from their wide geographic purview and from their oversight by legislators who generally are not arts connoisseurs.

Now, with enabling funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago has undertaken a major study of the wide and complex web of policy, funding, and other resources supporting the arts and culture found at the state level, including but extending beyond state arts agencies. Using Washington State as an example, Marian A. Godfrey of the Pew Charitable Trusts says in the introduction, “To all those who care about the great variety of cultural resources and activities in Washington, we believe (this book) offers new information and insights that will be useful in strengthening culturally relevant state policies and assuring effective cultural support.” Indeed, she indicates the report is a “powerful and easily adaptable methodology for cultural policymakers” that wish to apply it to their state.

Other arts and culture funders, notably the Wallace Foundation with its State Arts Program, also are beginning to focus on state level arts policy and programming.

The book's editor, J. Mark Schuster, professor of urban cultural policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has ably brought together a group of scholars to analyze cultural policy and approach the problem of mapping these intersecting and overlapping policies from state agencies, such as the Washington State Arts Commission, and nonprofit statewide cultural agencies, such as Humanities Washington. The book includes useful definitions of terms, as well as the historical background to Washington's cultural funding that is not found elsewhere. A table listing state cultural policy entities includes a startling twenty-six separate state departments and agencies with continuing cultural programming encompassing arts, culture, heritage, humanities, tribal and traditional arts, cultural tourism, capital facilities funding, archiving, and taxing districts. The figure “Lines of Communication in Cultural Policymaking in the State of Washington” is an art work in itself!

A strong undercurrent that follows the book's extensive analysis of laws and policy documents, budgets, and programs is the message that these agencies would do well to communicate more with each other in order to make more of scarce state resources for arts and culture. Cultural policymakers in Washington and any other state should study the overlapping areas of interest and create opportunities for sharing of resources to create stronger and jointly sponsored programs. Then, that integrated picture could be presented to the authorizers of funding, namely the state legislature and private foundations with statewide focus.

If the ultimate goal of arts and culture funders and sponsors is to build creative and healthy communities with educated citizens who participate fully in civic life, then Mapping State Cultural Policy can help us better coordinate funding and other resources for arts and culture for all communities in our states.