Completed Projects

SIAP is housed at the Penn School of Social Policy & Practice and benefits from the Penn community, in particular, the scholarly and collegial support provided by faculty, students, and administrators. We operate on a project basis—thanks to years of generous support by external funders, primarily foundations and government agencies, and the occasional bridge grant by the university.

Our Completed Projects 1994-2013 are presented below in reverse chronological order. For each project we provide a brief description and links to related materials in downloadable PDF format (except where otherwise noted). Our work is available for public use with full citation requested. Please contact us with any questions or comments about the work.

CultureBlocks—A Philadelphia Project 


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From 2011 to 2013, with support by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and ArtPlace, SIAP participated in Philadelphia’s CultureBlocks project in partnership with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and PolicyMap, the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE), and the Philadelphia Department of Commerce.

The centerpiece of the project was design and development of a free online cultural and community mapping tool for the City of Philadelphia. The new interactive web tool——was launched on April 30, 2013 at
Construction of the site built on the cultural data infrastructure developed by SIAP and on TRF’s PolicyMap, a “web-based geospatial visualization, analytics and reporting platform.”, powered by PolicyMap, is designed to facilitate community and economic development and serve as a networking hub for the cultural community.

In conjunction with database development for, SIAP led a research collaboration with TRF that featured development of a neighborhood-based multi-dimensional index of social wellbeing for the city of Philadelphia. The findings of the SIAP/TRF collaboration are compiled in our final report: Cultural Ecology, Neighborhood Vitality, and Social Wellbeing—A Philadelphia Project (December 2013).

Cultural Asset Mapping Project: Progress Report


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SIAP is working in partnership with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy (OACCE) to develop a creative assets mapping database for the City of Philadelphia. The concept builds on the body of work on culture and community revitalization generated by the TRF/SIAP collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation; the City’s interest in promotion of the creative economy as a focus of economic development policy; and the web capacity already developed by TRF, a cloud-based geo-database called PolicyMap

Generous support by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA Chairman’s Grant and Our Town Grant) and ArtPlace has enabled the partnership to plan, design, and develop a free and publicly available interactive web tool called CultureBlocks.  CultureBlocks is powered by a geospatial database of cultural and community assets designed to serve as a networking hub for the cultural community as well as facilitate community and economic development in Philadelphia. The official launch of CultureBlocks at Philadelphia City Hall was Tuesday, April 30, 2013. Check it out:

In conjunction with database development for CultureBlocks, SIAP and TRF have collaborated to further research on the relationship between cultural engagement, neighborhood vitality, and social wellbeing, in particular:

  • a cross-sectional analysis of the associations between cultural assets and social and community indicators;
  • construction of a time-series of the geography of cultural assets between 1997 and 2010 (using SIAP’s previously assembled databases) to examine the relationship between cultural assets and community change; and
  • construction of a Philadelphia livability/social inclusion index to link information on cultural assets with other community indices.  In particular, we are developing sub-indexes for nine dimensions of wellbeing: material standard of living, health, education, work/employment, housing, political voice, social connections, environment, and physical insecurity.

"Natural" Cultural Districts:
A Three‐City Study


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From 2010 to 2012, with support by Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a New York-­based national initiative, SIAP undertook a study of “natural” cultural districts in three cities—Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Seattle. The project had two interrelated parts:  a citywide analysis of the social geography and cultural ecology of the three cities and a series of community studies of seven cultural districts within the three cities. Our fieldwork and qualitative study focused on the following districts: 

  • Baltimore—Highlandtown-Patterson Park and Station North;
  • Philadelphia—Callowhill/Chinatown North and South Philadelphia; and
  • Seattle—Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Chinatown-International District.

The neighborhood narratives discuss the evolution and character of “natural” cultural districts and challenges posed to their sustainability, including the role of cultural space.  The broader goal of the project was to improve our ability to invest in—and monitor the impact of—the arts on community revitalization.
SIAP developed the concept of “natural” cultural district as a way to rethink the relationship of the arts and culture to neighborhood revitalization through the lens of the community cultural ecosystem.  Some neighborhoods spawn a concentration of cultural agents—organizations and businesses, artists and activists, residents and visitors—that function as a geographically based social network.  
This research builds on previous work by SIAP and The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation. The TRF/SIAP collaboration produced a series of policy briefs and reports on creativity and neighborhood development—and the power of placemaking—that are available at:

See also Completed Projects > Culture and Community Revitalization: A Collaboration, 2006-2008.

Arts-based Social Inclusion and Immigrant Communities


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SIAP had become interested in the role of the arts and culture in Philadelphia's immigrant communities for a number of reasons. Since 1996, we had been
interested in the role of ethnic diversity in stimulating cultural engagement, and immigration was clearly one of the generators of increased diversity. Our work
on Culture and Community Revitalization had convinced us that immigration was a key element of the "new urban reality" that was changing the context within which the arts and culture operated. Finally, we played a role in the Philadelphia Migration Project—funded by the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Urban Research—which began conducting seminars on the topic and developing a database in 2005. These various stands came together when Mark attended a conference on immigrant arts at Princeton in June 2006. As a result of that conference, we wrote a paper--co-authored with Domenic Vitiello--that appeared in Art in the Lives of Immigrant Communities in the United States, edited by Paul DiMaggio and Patricia Fernandez-Kelly.

In 2010, we led an investigation of the role that nonprofit arts and culture play in Philadelphia's immigrant communities—that is, Puerto Rican and foreign-
born residents and their families, including children born in the U.S. Findings are based on a pilot study conducted in collaboration with the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation with support by the William Penn Foundation.

The study centered on the concept of arts-based social inclusion—the idea that a set of artists and cultural organizations are consciously using the arts as a
way to improve the life circumstances of new Philadelphians and integrate them into community life. The findings suggest that the concept is grounded—both as a practice strategy and a policy dilemma. The key question is, as posed by an interviewee: "How can immigrants both retain their identity and enter the larger society? How can we use the arts to do that?"

Age and Arts Participation: A Case against Demographic Destiny


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In 2009 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) commissioned Mark Stern to write a monograph on the role of age and cohort in arts participation. The study used NEA's 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts and early versions of the survey to examine changes in these relationships since the 1980s. The study concluded that age and cohort had a relatively minor effect on arts participation.

Civic Engagement and the Arts


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During 2008, SIAP collaborated with Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, on an investigation of conceptual and methodological issues involved in studying the link between the arts and other forms of civic engagement. The project was a part of the Arts and Civic Engagement Impact Initiative led by Animating Democracy with support by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. In 2009 SIAP made a site visit to the Tucson-Pima Arts Council in Arizona and developed a strategy for translating the report's findings into a planning document for TPAC.

Community Partners in Arts Access Evaluation


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Between 2005 and 2009, SIAP conducted an evaluation of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Community Partners in Arts Access (CPAA)
initiative in North Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. The initiative funded a number of cultural organizations with the goal to expand arts and cultural
participation among residents of these two low-income urban communities. CPAA sought to improve grantees' organizational capacity and their ability to
partner with other arts and non-arts organizations.

SIAP's evaluation report documented changes in cultural participation in North Philadelphia and Camden between 2004 and 2008, based on the
Benchmark Project, and examined the cultural ecology and role of artists in these communities. In addition, given the Knight Foundation's new interest
in community transformation, we also explored the longer-term implications of CPAA for the communities served based on Jeremy Nowak's "architecture
of community"—social capital; public assets; economic assets and market relationships; and flows of information, capital, and people—a framework for creative place-making.

Knight Creative Communities Initiative Evaluation


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In 2007 and 2008, SIAP conducted a process evaluation of the Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI). The initiative was part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's recent interest in the development of social entrepreneurs to promote community transformation based on Richard Florida's creative class theory to stimulate economic development. The focus of KCCI was sponsorship of the "Creative Community Leadership Seminar" in three regions in order to "train Foundation staff and selected community leaders as creative community leaders." Florida's consulting firm, Creative Class Group (CCG), implemented the initiative in Charlotte, North Carolina; Duluth, Minnesota/Superior, Wisconsin; and Tallahassee, Florida.

SIAP's evaluation involved site visits to the three communities, a series of phone interviews with CCG staff and participants, an analysis of census data for the three communities, and two on-line surveys of the "catalysts" who were the focus on the initiative.

Culture and Community Revitalization:
A Collaboration


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Between 2006 and 2008, with support by the Rockefeller Foundation, SIAP collaborated with The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a community development
financial institution, on an investigation of the creative sector's potential contribution to neighborhood economic and community development. The staff of
TRF challenged SIAP to identify how its research findings on the role of arts and culture in urban communities could be applied to the practice of place-making and revitalization. In turn, SIAP challenged TRF to redefine how a CDFI could think about the creative sector.

One surprise outcome of the collaboration was TRF's realization that it already had been investing in the cultural sector. In fact, around 8 percent of its total
portfolio consisted of creative sector projects, including the Crane Arts Building discussed in the policy brief described below.

Through the collaboration, TRF and SIAP arrived at a common perspective. We agreed that today's urban policy environment requires us to consider a wider
range of "players" in the development of strategies and that the gap between policy-makers and practitioners has narrowed. We agreed, as well, that an
ecological approach that focuses on how different elements of the cultural sector interact in the process of place-making is the most productive starting point for the emerging field of culture-based revitalization. Finally, we endorsed the need to integrate policy, research, and practice to advance this field.

The SIAP-TRF collaboration produced a critical review of the literature, including a discussion of the changing structure of the creative sector in the context of
the "new urban reality"; a set of policy briefs; and a prospectus for community investment.

Philadelphia and Camden Cultural Participation Benchmark Project


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From 2003 to 2005 SIAP collaborated with Research For Action and Alan S. Brown/Audience Insight on a study of cultural participation in North Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. These two urban communities had been chosen by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for multi-year investment in order to broaden, deepen, and diversify resident participation in arts and cultural programs and events. The Benchmark Project, funded by Knight, consisted of three complementary research strategies: focus groups conducted by Research for Action, a neighborhood resident survey supervised by Alan Brown, and small-area estimates of cultural participation prepared by SIAP.

Dynamics of Culture


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Since 1994 SIAP has sought to develop methods for examining the character of Philadelphia's cultural sector and understanding its impact on the city and region. The Dynamics of Culture (DOC), a project undertaken from 2003 to 2005 with support by the Rockefeller Foundation, enabled us to refine and replicate our earlier investigations and develop new methods for understanding the role of artists and the informal sector. In addition, we used our research to generate a broader public conversation about the role that the arts play in promoting the well-being of Philadelphia and its neighborhoods.

Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, Community Impact Assessment


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SIAP's report represents a first attempt to assess the impact of the City of Philadelphia's mural arts program—initiated in 1984 under the Anti-Graffiti Network--on the city's neighborhoods. The need for the study grew out of the changing character of the Mural Arts Program (MAP) since its move in 1996 from the Office of the Mayor of Philadelphia to the Philadelphia Department of Recreation.

The study incorporated a variety of methods. We used data on the location of murals to assess whether the density of murals was related to other characteristics of a neighborhood. In addition, we developed a detailed mural production database to examine the nature of community involvement in MAP's process. Finally, we used a method developed by our Penn colleague, Ram Cnaan, to assess community members' contribution to the production of murals.

Culture Builds Community


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Between 1996 and 2001, SIAP worked with the William Penn Foundation on its Culture Builds Community initiative. During this period, we developed and refined a set of empirical methods for studying the relationship between cultural resources and urban communities and produced a series of working papers. In addition, we completed an evaluation for the Foundation of the initiative.

The focus of the Culture Builds Community research was on the potential of the arts and culture to build both neighborhood communities as well as broader social and institutional networks. During this phase SIAP also began to explore the relationship of the arts to social movements. In one working paper, SIAP research associate Mary Petty outlines her multi-year ethnographic study of the role of the arts in AIDS/HIV activism in Philadelphia. Another paper, prepared for the Planners Network conference on "Insurgent Planning, Globalization, and Local Democracy" held in Toronto in June 2000, proposed that we re-conceptualize community-based organizations using a social movements model instead of that of a classic nonprofit institution.

Arts Resources for Children and Youth in Philadelphia


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In 1995, Mark Stern and Susan Seifert collaborated with the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation on a study, commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts, of arts resources for children and youth in Philadelphia. The kids' art study was our first opportunity to use mapping as a way of examining the character of the city's cultural resources.

In addition, while doing this study, we made a discovery that had implications for our later work. In examining the correlations between the density of cultural resources and census variables, we found that census tracts with many arts resources were more likely to have both above-average poverty rates and above-average proportions of professionals and managers in the labor force. At first we thought we had made a mistake, but it finally occurred to us that there were many Philadelphia neighborhoods that had both of these characteristics—neighborhoods we would characterize as "pov prof." Working Paper #3—"Representing the City"—explored this form of diversity in greater detail.

First Summer, Philadelphia


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SIAP began during the summer of 1994. Thanks to a grant from the dean of the Penn School of Social Work, we were able to organize a research team of graduate and undergraduate students. The students focused on reviewing the literature on social impact and conducting fieldwork at several mural sites in Philadelphia neighborhoods. The resulting working paper explored the value that community members attached to the murals.

Meanwhile, Mark and Susan used the first version of our Philadelphia nonprofit cultural organization database and the 1992 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts to examine how the presence of cultural resources in a neighborhood influenced cultural participation—a topic to which we would return in later projects.