Princeton Weekly Bulletin June 7, 1999

Center focuses on arts, cultural policy

Crossdisciplinary group helps train graduate students, produce resources for research

By Caroline Moseley


Paul DiMaggio (l), Steven Tepper and Stanley Katz (photo by Denise Applewhite)


How can we document changes in the condition of the arts and humanities in the United States -- in the face of what sociology professor Paul DiMaggio cites as "inadequate human resources, and inadequate information and analysis"?

Spurred by a need "to improve the clarity and accuracy of discourse about the nation's artistic and cultural life," DiMaggio has joined with Stanley Katz, lecturer with the rank of professor in the Woodrow Wilson School, to create the Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies. Housed in Robertson Hall, the center was established in 1994.

Katz, director of the center, says it has three main purposes. First, he says, "We want to train graduate students in arts and cultural policy analysis." To date, "Very few academic social scientists or policy analysts have engaged in policy research in the arts and humanities. Nor has cultural policy emerged as an area of public policy studies, alongside education or health policy, for example." Katz sees the center as "an investment in human capital."

It currently supports 15 graduate students doing research on such topics as the relation of philanthropy and the arts, intergenerational change in patterns of participation in the arts, and the impact of the Internet and new technologies on art and culture. The center's associate director, sociology graduate student Steven Tepper, is working on a dissertation on "Culture, Conflict and Community," an examination of conflicts over art and culture in 100 American cities.

DiMaggio, who is research coordinator of the center as well as chair of the Sociology Department, notes that the center also offers support to faculty for development of new courses related to cultural policy.

To increase awareness of the center and its focus, says Katz, "We've developed a faculty committee based all around the University -- we have members from English, Music, Politics, Economics, German, Anthropology" (as well as Sociology and the Woodrow Wilson School, the home departments of the two organizers). "Many of these people wouldn't describe themselves as students of arts and cultural policy," DiMaggio points out, "but clearly they are interested in the field, as are many of their graduate students."

Databank of resources

A second purpose of the center, says DiMaggio, is to develop a central databank of resources for studying arts and cultural policy. Working with the National Endowment for the Arts, a center research team completed a review of available data sources on arts organizations. "We also wanted to know the uses to which people interested in arts policy would like to put that data," he points out. "We wanted to see what isn't there that people might want."

The center has studied available data sources on individual participation in the arts, and its website allows people who are interested in information about audiences to access a directory of the numerous surveys that have been conducted -- which might otherwise be hard to locate.

In addition to training students and developing data resources, says Katz, the center exists "to carry on research" -- which, he points out, "circles back to our first purpose, because a way to train people is to supervise their research."

One current project, says DiMaggio, is "research on the cultural uses of the Internet. We know there is a cornucopia of music, art and literature on the Web, but at present, we don't know who is using what or how or for what purposes." With support from the National Science Foundation, the center has been able "to get some relevant questions on the General Social Survey, a random survey of Americans organized by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago."

Sociology graduate student Eszter Hargittai "is playing a central role in this project, in which the center is collaborating with survey experts at the University of Maryland," DiMaggio notes.

Ars longa, research longer

While the Princeton center is funded by a combination of federal and private organizations, Katz points out that "Recently a great deal of energy has gone into advocacy for the national endowments for the arts and the humanities and for debate about them. We need to remind ourselves, however, that the endowments are a small part of the national cultural scene. There's a whole set of systems in this country for support of the arts that are not well understood -- especially the relation of local activity to arts and culture."

DiMaggio hastens to point out that the center is not an advocate for anything except "basic research. We're producing resources people can use any way they want to. Ars longa, research longer," he comments.

DiMaggio and Katz believe that the center is perhaps the only major university-based center of this kind, though Ohio State, Rutgers and Columbia sponsor related enterprises.

"The center is faculty-driven," observes Katz. "That's the Princeton style. If there are faculty members interested enough to take on a given research and teaching project, the University supports the effort."

Importance of the arts

While both men clearly have enough to keep them busy without sponsoring new initiatives, "It's what we want to do," says Katz. For DiMaggio, the eagerness to develop the center "comes out of my own sense of the importance of the arts and a belief that social institutions can assist creative people."

In addition to sharing a commitment to the importance of the arts in American life, both have devoted years to working with, writing about and advising not-for-profit and arts-related organizations. DiMaggio, who came to Princeton from Yale in 1992, is author of "Sociological Perspectives on Museums" for the Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (1998). Katz, a member of the faculty since 1978, also served as president of the American Council of Learned Societies from 1986 to 1997.

"We've watched arts policy change from being perceived as something the federal government does, to what we see now: an area that engages private institutions, individual donors, state and local arts agencies, and the corporate sector," says DiMaggio. "It's been pretty interesting to watch."

DiMaggio and Katz encourage other cultural policy watchers, regardless of discipline, to become part of the center's programs. Information on the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies is available at