Public Perceptions of Artists in Communities: A Sign of Changing Times

Jennifer L. Novak-Leonard, Rachel Skaggs


There is a growing recognition within the arts and cultural field that the public roles and work of artists are changing. Within the field, artists are increasingly lauded for their work as entrepreneurs, civically-minded problem-solvers, and agents for social change. Amid a shift away from the arts policy paradigm that has largely focused on nonprofit organizations over the last half-century within the United States, there is a hypothesis stemming from within the arts and cultural field that a policy paradigm focused on artists' roles in community change, development, and placemaking will take hold. Public opinion and perceptions have an important influence on the formation of public policies, yet whether and how artists' roles in public life are perceived beyond the arts and cultural field is unknown. This lack of understanding impedes the arts and cultural field's ability to monitor if such a policy paradigm shift is occurring and to develop policies to support artists' work within and with communities. Therefore, we developed and pilot tested survey indicators to gauge public perceptions of artists within communities. In this article, we describe the indicators, report on the national pilot test topline results, and discuss the indicators' merits to be used over time drawing from the pilot test results. Understanding public perceptions of artists within communities can inform and influence policies supporting artists' work and offer a means to monitor shifts to the larger arts and cultural policy paradigm in the U.S.

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