The Economics of Art and Culture. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)

By Balfe, Judith Huggins | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Economics of Art and Culture. (Book Reviews/Comptes Rendus)


Balfe, Judith Huggins, Canadian Journal of Sociology


James Heilbrun and Charles M. Gray, The Economics of Art and Culture, 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001, 410 pp.

Sociological analysis of the arts has developed over the last 35 years as arts organizations increased enormously in number and in their degree of institutionalization. So too has public support for the arts and other cultural expressions, in North America through the Canada Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, provincial, state and local agencies. Increasing in turn has been the need for such organizations to become publicly accountable, thereby providing systematic and quantitative data subject to more than the ethnographic and case study analysis by social scientists that have formed the original basis of the field. Such studies continue to be done, but now greatly enhanced by the more universal survey data that is available.

Not surprisingly, as the field has grown so too have academic conferences and publications proliferated. Most notable for sociologists is the annual Conference on Social Theory, Politics and the Arts and its now-affiliated journal, the Journal of Arts Management and Law. The STP&A conference "group" exists only as a mailing list: someone each year offers to host and inherits the list. Many Canadians have participated on a yearly basis; in 1989 our host at University of Toronto was Joseph G. Green and in 1996 at University of Montreal, Francois Colbert organized the conference. Each published selected proceedings under the respective titles of From Orchestras to Apartheid (Guiot & Green, 1990; it includes the keynote address by Mayor Moore) and Selected Proceedings: Cultural Policy (Colbert 1997).

While STP&A has been multi-disciplinary since its early years, including sociologists, political scientists and policy analysts, anthropologists, historians, aestheticians, economists, arts administrators and occasionally even an artist (!), the Conference on Cultural Economics has attracted primarily economists, drawn to mathematical models. It has produced its own eponymous journal. There are now European-based variants of both of the above conferences and journals, to say nothing of mainstream publication of anthologies and other studies in the field, with many social scientist "multi-linguists" participating in both. Notable among these has been cultural economist Harry Hillman Chartrand of Saskatoon, most of whose publications are available online.

With all of this scholarly attention, what have we learned? The book under discussion here, The Economics of Art and Culture (2nd edition), is gracefully written, filled with more recent data and sound analysis. James Heilbrun and Charles M. Gray are both economists, if somewhat less inclusive in their purview than Chartrand in their analysis of the "culture industry." (Indeed, they do not cite his work.) The first edition of their text was published in 1993. Their second edition, like the first, focuses primarily on the micro- but also the macroeconomics of artistic production and its social meanings. They provide a remarkably clear analysis of a large number of data sets, summarized in tables that even someone like myself, "qualitative" to the core, can understand, along with a few mathematical models. The data are taken from sources in the United States and internationally, public agencies as well as foundation and corporate reports. Their analysis is nuanced in recognition of the limitations of such surve y quantitative data. They are consistent in comparing the views of those who oppose any public funding of the arts, who favor complete privatization, with those who support at least some such funding -- as do they.

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