03/20/2009 - Throughout history, people have turned to music, dance, visual images and theater to mark important life passages, from birth to marriage to death. Artistic expression has always helped humans to grapple with extreme emotions and circumstances, whether those be occasions for joy, the beginnings of important tasks or moments of crisis.
Just think of the prehistoric cave paintings in France and the rock carvings in the American Southwest that depict scenes of armed men and fleeing animals as a means of calling for good fortune in the hunt. Or consider how eloquently music captures the deep emotions felt at weddings and funerals.
The ability of art to satisfy humans’ urge for expression at these mo-ments is one of its most enduring and universal characteristics. The specific ways in which the arts are manifested, on the other hand, vary dramatically from culture to culture and from age to age. In the 20th century, the American cultural sector grew exponentially and became more diverse and complex than ever before. Today, for example, some artistic forms such as gospel music carry the message of religious faith to larger audiences, and some artists and organizations are driven by a mission to make the world a better place. At the same time, many new forms of cultural expression, including film, television, pop music and most recently computer gaming, have developed as part of our consumer culture. Artistic expression occurs along a continuum, from work that survives through pure competition for market share to activity that is recognized and supported philanthropically as a benefit to society.
The rapid pace of technological advancement over the past century has offered both challenges and opportunities to the arts, while steadily increasing public access to all sorts of cultural experiences. Philadelphia, where we concentrate our work with cultural institutions and artists, has a long-standing reputation as a city of firsts. In the arts, for example, the Philadelphia Orchestra was the first symphonic orchestra to make electrical recordings and to give a live cybercast of a concert, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was a pioneer in recognizing and exhibiting photography as a legitimate art form.
Today, technology gives artists and cultural organizations, both in Philadelphia and beyond, powerful new tools to reinvent the traditional forms of music, theater, dance and the visual arts, and to reach ever-broader audiences with their innovations. Yet it also increases competition for audience share. Anyone possessing an Internet connection, a decent set of headphones and a little bit of leisure has virtually unlimited access to the world’s cultural riches.
It is already clear that the live arts will increasingly be challenged to reinvent themselves, both to incorporate the powerful tools offered by new technologies and to compete for the engagement of audiences that can access their offerings electronically. To help Philadelphia cultural organizations respond, the Pew Culture program is investing in continued artistic innovation; creating tools for smarter management, marketing and planning in the current environment; and providing new knowledge about the nonprofit cultural sector that can demonstrate both its social and economic value and its needs.
The Cultural Data Project, which Pew manages on behalf of donors and partners throughout the country, is a national program that uses Web technology to gather, analyze and disseminate reliable information on cultural organizations in participating states. Organizations use their own data to improve their management practices, and researchers and advocates are gaining better understanding of the true story of the arts’ impact in communities.
Engage 2020, a Pew-supported research initiative of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, aims to double cultural activity in the Philadelphia region by the year 2020. Its Cultural Engagement Index will track and measure how the region’s citizens, both amateur and professional, participate in a wide variety of commercial and nonprofit arts events.
These new initiatives are collaborative efforts by Pew and donor partners to use 21st-century resources to support positive change in the cultural community. They enhance the Culture program’s established efforts here in our home city, including the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, which supports initiatives in dance, music, theater, the visual arts and historic heritage, as well as fellowships for artists; and the Philadelphia Cultural Leadership Program, which, through technical assistance for management and grants for general operations, assists organizations to be more effective and creative in their work.
While much has changed in the past century, and even in the past decade, one thing remains constant: People crave and need opportunities to explore their deeper selves and connect with one another and the world through all of the arts. Pew and our partners seek to ensure that a vibrant cultural community accessible to all is a reality that will continue to enrich Philadelphia and the nation in the years to come.
Marian A. Godfrey
Senior Director, Culture Initiatives
Gregory T. Rowe
Director, Culture Initiatives
Deputy Director, Philadelphia Program
Read more about Pew's work in Pew Prospectus 2009 (PDF).