Measuring Culture Event by Event

Susan Chun, USA

The story of the cultural landscape of a place can be told in many ways: some studies of a city’s cultural vitality quantify its cultural organizations, tally residents employed in creative professions, count funding for the arts, or measure audience participation in cultural activities. However, one rarely-used metric for measuring culture is the availability of the cultural events that citizens may enjoy. This paper presents the results of a pilot project, conducted in the Winter of 2012-13 in Los Angeles, California, aimed at prototyping a unique, real-time, interdisciplinary database of cultural events that can be analyzed and visualized by amount, location, type, price, and audience. No such database currently exists. Efforts to aggregate event information—almost always commercial and aimed at either ticket sales or the development of customer-facing calendaring systems—usually capture only a fraction of the events in a region. They are useful in helping consumers answer the question, “what shall we do tonight?” but less helpful in providing a picture of the scope, nature, and location of cultural production in a place.

The implications of the research, which our team hopes to replicate in multiple cities in 2014, extend beyond the consumer to the adjacent fields of urban planning, arts policymaking, and tourism, among others. In addition, our findings, especially those focused on the sources of event information online, have important implications for cultural practitioners. Our presentation will highlight some relevant insights for museums about the nature of event information, and the ways in which it is shared, displayed, digested, and presented.

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