Artistic deficit and the determinants of cultural programming and innovation

Since at least the early 1990s, several observers have argued that the USA suffers from an artistic deficit. Most of them have claimed that cultural organizations – in particular, performing art organizations such as symphony orchestras and opera houses but also museums (e.g. Alexander, 1995) and radio stations (e.g. Lopes, 1992) – are programming more ”popular”, “commercial” or “conventional” repertoire. Many posited that this conventionality and lack of artistic diversity and innovation are due to an increasingly private funding of cultural organizations (e.g. Heilbrun & Grey, 1993; Martorella, 1977). Similar claims have more recently been made also in Europe and elsewhere.

In Castañer and Campos (2002), we reviewed the empirical evidence as well as the different arguments and perspectives put forward to explain the programming of cultural organizations. We discuss the different concepts of diversity, innovation and conformity (and imitation). And we also provide a definition of artistic innovation and distinguish different types as a function of the referent used as well as in terms of content and form.

The article also points out that drawing from economics or political science, most explanations of artistic programming and deficit have taken a macro (market or institutional) perspective. We instead build on organizational theory and put forward a meso perspective which focuses on the organizational level and takes into consideration how external forces affect programming through, for instance, the fragmentation or concentration of funding sources which, we argue, determines the extent of organizational autonomy to pursue the values of the members of the organizational dominant coalition (both managerial and artistic) whose background might also have a significant role. We also discuss the role of organizational size, distinguishing its effect in terms of both slack resources, reputation and inertia. Drawing from the literature on organizational innovation, our framework integrates several organizational theories such as resource dependence, the behavioral theory of the firm and organizational ecology.

At the time, for space reasons, we left out the role of the networks in which organizational leaders (in particular, artistic leaders) are embedded and which,  in the working paper presented in 2000 at the ACEI conference, we argued probably have a significant influence in programming,  given that these professionals tend to seek each other’s recognition as well as to compete and cooperate among themselves (e.g. Castañer, 1997).

Castañer, X. and Campos, L. (2002). “The Determinants of Artistic Innovation: Bringing the Role of Organizations”. Journal of Cultural Economics, 26: 29-52.Reprinted in Towse, R. (ed) (2007), Recent Developments in Cultural Economics. Edward Elgar.

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