Landmark study reveals value of the arts in communities nationwide

Urban Institute report commissioned by Knight Foundation finds that local arts and cultural activities drive community connection, but racial inequities persist.

MIAMI – A landmark report commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and conducted by Urban Institute finds that people with access to arts and cultural amenities are more deeply attached to their communities, but equitable access continues to be challenging for communities of color. 

Conducted before COVID-19, Community Ties: Understanding What Attaches People to the Place Where They Live, draws upon a rich dataset on community attachment from a survey of 11,000 Americans in 26 metro areas across the country.

Community leaders are looking to enhance the vibrancy and desirability of their cities, and those grappling with how to recover a sense of community connection in the wake of COVID-19 and a national racial reckoning, can look to the Community Ties study to better understand the key role played by the arts. 

Out of a dozen urban amenities studied, local arts and cultural amenities stood out for their potential to boost resident satisfaction, civic engagement and ties to the community. However, longstanding racial and economic disparities present significant barriers to equitable arts access.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Access to local arts and culture boosts connection to community, both in feeling and in action. Across demographic groups, people who say their neighborhood has easy access to arts and cultural amenities are more satisfied with their city as a place to live, identify more with the local lifestyle and culture, and invest more time and resources in their communities. 
  • Racial and income inequality is reflected in who has access to arts and cultural amenities. People in low-income or minority households report lower levels of access to arts and cultural activities than higher-income or white residents.
  • Arts and culture are key to cities’ vibrancy and quality of life. These findings show residents who choose a community for quality of life reasons are more likely to be attached to the community over time. Cities can attract and retain residents and foster a sense of community by improving equitable access to arts and cultural activities.  
  • People often find it difficult to access arts and culture where they live. People said that arts and cultural activities were the fourth most difficult urban amenity to access nationally, after affordable housing, public transit and job opportunities.  

“During the pandemic and movement for racial justice, we’ve seen local artists both giving voice to the experiences of communities and sparking meaningful conversations through the arts,” said Victoria Rogers, Knight’s vice president of the Arts program. “Community Ties shows that arts and cultural activities foster more engaged communities, but more work needs to be done to make access to them more equitable.”

Knight Foundation funds local arts initiatives and believes that investing in arts and culture is central to building stronger, better informed and more engaged communities. 

For interviews, please contact Alise Murawski at [email protected] | 202-702-6903.

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About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.


Image (top) of Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) by Armando Colls.