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New Research Illustrates California’s Arts Ecology

BY Ray Delgado
Ray Delgado
Ray Delgado was with The James Irvine Foundation from 2006 to 2013, last serving
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| Sep 21, 2011

Avid Participation, Abundant Arts Organizations and Dramatic Regional Differences are Hallmarks of the State

San Francisco California has 11,000 arts and culture nonprofits, a number that places the state ahead of most nations in the world. Californians are more likely to participate than other Americans — but arts involvement and nonprofit organizations are unevenly spread across California’s geographic and demographic communities.

New findings generated by Markusen Economic Research and commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation offer fresh illustrations of the California nonprofit arts sector and the people who take part in it. Released today, Arts, Culture and Californians draws highlights from the research.

This new research illustrates that arts and culture plays a significant role in the daily lives of Californians. The state is noteworthy for the avid participation of its people, the diversity and abundance of its arts organizations and the varied regional characteristics of its arts sector. California’s regions reflect distinctive populations, participation rates, numbers and types of arts and culture organizations, and levels of arts funding.

“We found the energy, expansiveness and diversity of these thousands of arts nonprofits stunning and reassuring,” said Ann Markusen, president of Markusen Economic Research and director of the Arts Economic Initiative at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. “They are at the heart of California’s cultural creativity and form a seedbed for the state’s globally competitive cultural industries.”

CA and US participationHighsAndLows.png

California has high participation compared to the rest of the United States. As shown above left, in 2008, 52 percent of Californians over the age of 18 attended at least one arts event compared to 46 percent in other states. Arts and culture participation declined nationally from 2002 to 2008, but participation among California adults dropped only 6 percentage points compared to 8 points for other American adults.

But arts participation rates vary by region, dramatically. Rates of participation in the arts are not evenly distributed across California. As shown above right, the San Francisco Bay Area contributes disproportionately to the state’s higher overall participation rate, with 66 percent in 2008. The lowest rates are found in the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley; this combined area has a 42 percent participation level, which places it below the 46 percent level recorded for all states outside California. Three major urban centers — Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego — anchor regions with relatively high participation rates. Adults in the rest of the state participate at a combined high level of 60 percent.

“Those of us working in the arts can attest to the powerful contribution of arts and culture to our collective civic and social life,” said Josephine Ramirez, Arts program director at The James Irvine Foundation. “Our challenge as a sector is to raise the level of arts engagement far above what the data now reflect. In helping us more fully understand arts participation, this report and other studies like it offer context and information to effectively take on that challenge.”

The research incorporated data from a range of sources, including the California Cultural Data Project ( The new report and full research materials are at

Contact: Ray Delgado, Communications Officer
415.356.9974 (office)
415.290.1143 (mobile)
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Ray Delgado was with The James Irvine Foundation from 2006 to 2013, last serving as a Communications Officer and Assistant Corporate Secretary.


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