Philadelphia Social Innovation Journal looks at CultureBlocks

Culture Blocks
Written by Anya Saretzky

Philadelphia Social InnovationsBefore the launch of CultureBlocks this year, there was no effective way to access all cultural data in Philadelphia. Additionally, these data were not easily contextualized within the geography of Philadelphia. While some cultural data were technically available to the public, they were scattered in various databases housed at different agencies. Organizations wishing to make an informed decision were forced to hunt for datasets by calling around or, if they were unable to find the information, manually collecting the data on the ground (Moira Baylson, personal communications, June 23 and July 29, 2013).

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy gathered a group of partners, including The Reinvestment Fund, the Social Impact of the Arts Project at the University of Pennsylvania (SIAP) and the City Commerce Department, and decided to tackle this problem by amassing information from over 50 datasets and mapping it on a free online tool that is open to everyone (Crimmins). This tool, known as CultureBlocks, is unique thanks to the extensive research of the SIAP. These data reveal cultural activity occurring outside of traditional arts institutions such as artists’ residences and cultural programming at places like libraries (Moira Baylson, personal communications, June 23 and July 29, 2013).

CultureBlocks_LogoCultureBlocks allows city departments, foundations, arts organizations and community development corporations to make data-driven decisions (McCullough & Goldstein, personal communication, August 2, 2012). Better-informed decisions allow these organizations to be more effective in achieving their missions. Generally, these missions promote arts and culture in Philadelphia, which in turn can foster urban recovery and economic benefits. However, the tool can also be used in unexpected ways, such as informing strategies to reduce youth violence (Moira Baylson, personal communications, June 23 and July 29, 2013). The nature of the impact CultureBlocks will have on the city will depend on which organizations use the tool.

Philadelphia’s tool sets itself apart thanks to its access to highly detailed cultural information. If another city were interested in replicating this tool at the level of detail CultureBlocks enjoys, it would need to have access to data, through comprehensive cultural data collection (similar to the work of the SIAP), as well as access to City data (Moira Baylson, personal communications, June 23 and July 29, 2013). Once data could be accessed, the CultureBlocks team could work in coordination with The Reinvestment Fund to adapt the mapping tool to the needs of another city. This route to replication would save other cities a great deal of time and expense (McCullough & Goldstein, personal communication, August 2, 2012).

Read the rest of this great article by Anya Saretzky at the Philadelphia Social Innovation Journal.