Building public will for the arts and culture

Surveys routinely show that a majority of Americans engage in the arts and culture, and other creative activities, on a regular basis. Yet despite this high engagement, the arts and culture continue to be seen as “a nicety rather than a necessity,” with barriers to arts experiences and education often insurmountable.

The arts and culture community has struggled for years to push back against this diminution. While these campaigns have been valid and beneficial—at least in the short term—we have yet to sustainably motivate people to speak, act and civically engage in such a manner as to strengthen and broaden access to the cultural resources of our communities, our states and our country.

Recognizing this challenge—and the opportunities it presents—we are using a proven approach to build public will in a way that creates sustainability for the arts and culture as a recognized, valued and expected part of everyday life. MG is working in tandem with Arts Midwest to connect the arts and culture to existing, closely held values—resulting in new and lasting community expectations that shape sustainable changes in attitudes, behaviors, policies and systems that support the arts and culture.

The research phase of the project involved national research supplemented by pilot efforts in California, Oregon, Michigan and Minnesota. Our efforts relied heavily on engagement with external audiences and stakeholders, especially those representing “unexpected” voices for the arts and culture from the fields of science, business and industry, health, recreation and others. Each pilot location identified a field of external advisors to support its efforts.

In early 2015, we published findings from the research along with recommendations for arts and culture advocates on how to incorporate new messaging into their efforts to engage the public and other stakeholders. This work has since expanded into an implementation phase that builds on our research. That phase includes the development of more robust messaging and programming recommendations along with tools to help arts and culture organizations incorporate them, the development and deployment of a training module, and technical assistance for select organizations that represent the diversity of our arts and culture communities.