People gather in the street near an open gallery in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood for a "First Friday" event.
People gather in the street near an open gallery in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood for a "First Friday" event. Bob Krist/Visit Philadelphia

The clustering of artists at First Friday events highlights how affordability usually constrains small-scale art to less-prominent spaces.

In cities across the country, galleries and museums in creative districts open their doors on the first Friday of each month for walks that fuse art and urbanism. These strolls are a natural fit because art venues tend to cluster in specific areas to feed off one another—examples range from the Wynwood Arts District in Miami to New York’s Midtown and the Noho Arts District in Los Angeles to Atlanta’s Midtown. But to what extent do the arts and walkability really go together?

A new study by Elizabeth Mack, Emily Talen, and Julia Koschinsky, published in Economic Development Quarterly, takes a close look. The big takeaway: It’s larger art galleries and art-related businesses that cluster in denser, walkable neighborhoods close to the urban core that we trek through on First Fridays. Smaller arts businesses and organizations tend to locate in less-pricey, less-walkable, and less-central neighborhoods.

New York City’s large arts establishments (blue) and small-scale arts businesses (red) as of February 2016. (© Esri and Infogroup)

The study identifies these two kinds of arts establishments using 2010 data from Esri on larger-scale arts businesses and organizations listed as National Arts Index locations and small-scale arts businesses that occupy less than 2,500 square feet, bring in less than $250,000 in sales, and have fewer than five employees. The authors acknowledge there are many independent artistic activities missing from this data, such as work done in a home studio, live-work space, park, community center, or any other type of space that is not an explicit museum or storefront.

Check out this map of the source data from Esri and Infogroup, where blue dots represent the large-scale arts businesses and red dots represent small-scale businesses. It’s important to note that the data for the study comes from 2010, while the Esri maps of this information have since been updated to February 2016.

To get at the issue of walkability, the study compiled the Walk Score for the locations of these two types of arts organizations across all 359 metros made up of more than 170,000 “block groups” identified by the U.S. Census. Those groups contain between 600 to 3000 people, giving us a closer view than a typical Census tract.

The authors then took a deeper dive into the location of arts establishments across 20 metropolitan areas in well-known arts centers like New York and Los Angeles and lesser-known but established centers such as Atlanta and Houston. In total, these 20 areas contain about 40 percent of the arts establishments tracked in the study.

A map of art spaces in Chicago, where high-end arts dealers were 2.3 times more likely to locate in a gentrified location than in an edge location. (© Esri and Infogroup)

The study uses regression models to ferret out the effects of walkability on the location of these two types of arts establishments, controlling for a wide range of factors based on demographics, housing, schools, density, land use, and other neighborhood characteristics.

The big finding is that smaller arts establishments are a whopping 51 percent less likely to locate in central, dense, walkable neighborhoods with pricey real estate than in the lower-priced, lower Walk Score neighborhoods that the study uses as a baseline comparison for its location odds-ratio.

According to the study, the cost of property in the high-Walk Score blocks ranged from 46 percent to 226 percent higher than in low-Walk Score blocks, making those more-walkable areas much more expensive to do business in. Interestingly, larger arts establishments were only slightly more likely to locate in these pricey, walkable areas, being 2.3 percent more likely to locate in high-priced, walkable blocks and roughly 6 percent more likely to locate in higher-priced but non-walkable areas out in the suburbs.

While the downtown of Washington feature many large scale art galleries, consider the wide reach of small scale art businesses into its suburbs. (© Esri and Infogroup)

Even accounting for business density, neighborhood features, and demographics, the gap between neighborhood locations persists between large-scale and small-scale arts businesses, indicating a effect beyond the basic question of affordability. As the study notes:

Larger-scale arts businesses, as well as art dealers, which serve a relatively wealthy clientele, are more likely to locate in walkable neighborhoods, while small-scale arts businesses with comparatively small sales volumes, floor space, and few employees are not linked with walkable places.

Larger-scale arts businesses were significantly more likely to set up in walkable, high-property-value districts in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Riverside, with larger arts establishments being between 6 percent to 25 percent more likely to locate in such sites compared to non-walkable, lower priced blocks—referred to in the study as “edge blocks.”

Large arts businesses were also more likely to set up in walkable, low-priced blocks near the urban core, which the study calls “inner rings” (think of them as transitional neighborhoods). The odds of a large-scale art operation locating in an inner-ring block compared to an edge block increased between 5 percent and 17 percent in Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle.

Large-scale arts businesses had greater likelihoods of being located in higher-priced, less-walkable suburban sites in nearly every metro area, as well. Meanwhile, smaller arts establishments were much more likely to locate in less-pricey and less-walkable areas across the board. They were 30 to 81 percent less likely to locate in a higher-priced, walkable neighborhood, and 46 to 84 percent less likely to locate in a less-pricey and less-walkable inner-ring neighborhood.

A map of large and small arts businesses in Houston, Texas, where high-end arts dealers were 3.3 times more likely to locate in a gentrified block than an edge block. (© Esri and Infogroup)

This joint pattern was the case for Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, and San Francisco. In Denver, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., though, smaller arts businesses were only less likely to locate in higher-priced urban areas. In Denver and Houston, smaller-scale arts businesses were less likely to locate in higher-priced, less-walkable areas. Only in New York were smaller establishments less likely to set up in far-flung, cheaper locations than in more walkable spaces.

The pattern is further magnified for art dealers, who depend on affluent patrons for their business in the 20 larger metro areas. In 14 of the 20 metros, the study found that art dealers were much more likely to locate in pricey, walkable areas. This table of median housing prices from the study highlights the economic tradeoffs that come with the different kinds of walkable blocks.

The median property costs for different kinds of blocks in U.S. cities and a percentage price comparison to the least desirable properties. (Mack, Talen, and Koschinsk/Economic Development Quarterly)

Without making causal statements about walkability and arts businesses, the study suggests that the expense of walkability plays a huge role in determining the location of arts establishments. The authors write that as the urban fabric becomes more walkable, it may carry “unintended consequences for arts businesses that are unable to bear the higher costs associated with walkability.” The researchers call for local policies to “ameliorate the higher property costs associated with walkable environments for small-scale arts activities that are vulnerable to higher costs.”

***

When it comes to arts and cities, we see another kind of divide. Larger, more-established arts organizations—particularly high-profile art galleries and dealers—colonize the best locations near the city center. This is obvious in any large city like New York, London, or Paris, where blocks of art galleries tag alongside designer shops, trophy condos and townhouses, and upscale office buildings.

But less-established arts organizations, less-established galleries, and artists are located in less-proximate, less-established areas where prices are lower. The data suggest some of these are non-walkable—perhaps even suburban areas. This is in line with how working artists and the organizations that are tied to them venture into less-pricey locations. Cities would be wise to work alongside less-established artists and arts organizations to bring more people into a burgeoning arts scene.

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