Why Art Here? (Not There)

By mclennan

Why does art happen in one neighborhood and not another? Why do artists live on one block and not on the next? Why are some cities magnets for creativity and others not? We live in the age of data. Big Data. So we wondered: is there data that could help explain why art happens here and not there?

Even as we ask the question, the problem is obvious. If you’re going to ask “why” art you first have to define “what” art. And that is… problematic. Even if you get past that one, there are issues finding reliable numbers and trying to draw meaningful conclusions from them.

Second problem: Even when you define the data you want to see, there’s no guarantee the data return the kind of information you want. Or that it’s possible to interpret in ways that make sense.

But people are compiling oceans of data that describe behavior in the creative economy, where artists are and what they do, how we consume and share art, where art is and isn’t. There are many ways of peering into that data to look at where and why art is.

We realized: WE don’t have to define art in the data, you can. So we turned this question into a long-term project. Over the next few years we want to add databases that measure  “art” and give visitors to this site ways of looking into the data. Census data, Labor Bureau data, Cultural Data Project data, LA Stage Alliance data… anything that tries to measure creative activity.

Many organizations are trying to gather and present creative community data. What we want to do is three things: aggregate data from many sources, give you wherever possible access to “live” data so you can define for yourself ways of measuring art that are meaningful to you, and begin making stories based on observations pulled from the data. This is a kind of “lenses” project in which we try to make available different lenses through which to look at data and then give you opportunity to find your own context.

Our first pass is to take data on artists from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and show where the greatest concentration of artists are in the 100 largest cities. You can sort by kind of artist, by location and by how much artists report they earn.

Know a database we ought to incorporate into the project? Let us know


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