Major study "Set in Stone" examines lessons of “building boom” for museums, arts centers and theaters
Civic leaders, arts organizations, donors and government officials can better plan new or expanded arts facilities by first focusing on the arts organizations’ missions and assessing demand for the projects, according to a new study from the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago.
The study, “Set in Stone,” looks at a major building boom of museums, performing arts centers and theaters in the United States from 1994 to 2008. It is the first scientifically prepared study of its kind and was requested both by cultural leaders and major foundations that had, in many cases, provided support for these building projects.
“Set in Stone” (which is at culturalpolicy.uchicago.edu/setinstone/) was released on June 28 by the Cultural Policy Center, a joint project of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Studies, and the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. The study looks at the lessons that can be learned from the cultural expansion.
The work was based on interviews with people in more than 500 organizations and drew data from more than 700 building projects, including both new facilities and major renovations. The costs of the projects ranged from $4 million to $335 million. It relied on rare, behind-the-scenes access to the discussions surrounding the buildings.
Unexpected challenges amid building boom
The building boom in cultural facilities from 1994-2008 outpaced building in other sectors, such as health care, said Joanna Woronkowicz, an associate at the Cultural Policy Center and one of the authors of the report.
“Expansive new venues, signature architectural statements, vital new centers of artistic and cultural activity, and objects of civic pride—all these could appear to be positive indicators,” said Carroll Joynes, co-founder and senior fellow at the Cultural Policy Center. Joynes joined Woronkowicz in authoring the report, in addition to center colleagues Norman Bradburn, Robert Gertner, Peter Frumkin, Anastasia Kolendo and Bruce Seaman.
“At least in the beginning, each of these projects was based on the assumption that a new facility would help increase audience size, increase earned and donated income, and at least indirectly, help realize the institution’s mission,” said Joynes. In some cases, this worked. But in many instances, the experiences in these new and expanded facilities were much more difficult and challenging than predicted, and put enormous strain on institutions.
The study looked at great variations in cultural building projects in the United States.
Among the key findings:
• Cities in the South had the greatest increase in cultural buildings. The region had lagged behind the rest of the country prior to the building boom — the Northeast and West had twice the number of cultural facilities per capita in 1990 than did the South.
• Increases in building were most common in communities with increases in personal income and in education among their residents; this was another reason why the South led in building expansions.
• Spending was also strong across the rest of the country from 1994 to 2008. The New York area led the country in cultural building ($1.6 billion), while the Los Angeles area saw an expansion of $950 million and the Chicago area saw spending of $870 million on arts-related projects.
• Smaller cities with fewer than 500,000 people were building as well, and many of these cities were building for the first time. On a per capita basis, nine of the top ten spenders on cultural projects were in smaller cities. Pittsfield, Mass., for example, with a population of 44,700, led the list with a per capita expenditure of $605 for six projects at a total cost of more than $81 million.
• More than 80 percent of the projects we studied ran over budget, some by as much as 200 percent.
• More performing arts centers were built than any other kind of arts facility.
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