The Arts and Social Capital

As the “economic rationale” for supporting and funding the arts has fallen into disuse, another has risen, and one of much more substance, that of “building social capital.”

The “economic rationale” was bound to have a short life, as it never factored in opportunity costs, e.g. what if a sports arena had been built downtown instead of a performing arts center, wouldn’t the restaurants, hotel and parking income and taxes have been as great, if not greater? The arts sector voices repeatedly proclaimed that the arts stimulate tourism and downtown economic activity. And while I am convinced that this is true to some extent, it have never given a solid reason for supporting and funding the arts. Building social capital does.

What is social capital? — from Social Capital Research (

“Social capital is about the value of social networks, bonding similar people and bridging between diverse people, with norms of reciprocity (Dekker and Uslaner, 2001; Uslaner, 2001). Sander (2002) stated that “folk wisdom that more people get their jobs from whom they know, rather that what they know, turns out to be true.” Adler and Kwon (2002) identified that the core intuition guiding social capital research is that the goodwill that others have toward us is a valuable resource. As such they define social capital as “the goodwill available to individuals or groups. Its source lies in the structure and content of the actor’s social relations. Its effects flow from the information, influence, and solidarity it makes available to the actor (Adler and Kwon, 2002). Dekker and Uslaner (2001) posited that social capital is fundamentally about how people interact with each other.

It’s easy to extrapolate how the arts can and do contribute to building social capital, just as it’s easy to understand how building social capital can and does improve communities.

More on this in future posts.

About the author

James Undercofler

Jim has been a Professor at Drexel University since May, 2009. His previous appointment - since August, 2007 - was as the President and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jim was Dean of the Eastman School of Music from 1997 to 2007. He has played a prominent role in musical arts and music education throughout his career. Before joining Eastman in 1995 as associate director for academic affairs and professor of music education, he was an active, performing chamber musician as well as first horn in the New Haven Symphony. Jim serves as board president, American Music Center; advisory board member, Arts Education Policy Review; board member, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, New York State Association of College Music Programs and American Symphony Orchestra League, and is a founding member, NETWORK of Performing and Visual Arts Schools and Mercury Opera of Rochester.

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