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Case studies of organizations

The study showed how arts organizations are communicating their unique identities and how they are working to position themselves on the democratic side of the elitism continuum. In organizational theory, an organization’s identity—its view of itself—is a foundational concept, and this identity reflects central and enduring characteristics that establish the organization’s distinctiveness. Agreement on this identity within the organization is critical.


Cultural trends has been the shift to a postmodern worldview, where knowledge and authority themselves have been called into question. From this perspective, the barriers between “high” and “low” culture have been leveled and preference for traditional art forms has become just a matter of taste—no better or worse than popular culture or any other form of expression—and therefore representing just another consumer choice. Both high and low (or elite and popular) culture can be seen as part of a broader system of cultural aesthetics.


Overall tastes in the arts and popular culture (i.e., taste cultures) tend to correspond to social identities based on such factors as ethnicity, geographic region, education, and lifestyle. Almost 40% of the time artwork was a primary focus of the communication piece. Performers were the primary focus about 16% of the time, and creators 8% of the time. Thus, artistic programming played a dominant role in “what” was being communicated, while audiences and educational activities were the primary focus only about 12% and 11%, respectively.


Charlotte Symphony: Charlotte Symphony is clearly articulating its mission to “invigorate diverse audiences,” “inspire every child,” and “illuminate the city’s arts.” The focus is heavily skewed toward the democratic access end of the continuum, and the quality aspect is fairly understated.

Portland Center Stage: In thinking about the elitistdemocracy continuum, one can see that there’s nothing exclusionary, not really any reference to quality, and the reference to community outreach is very broad. The organization is able to reinforce the idea of bringing stories to life as well as emphasize the regional theme, support for new work, and outreach and engagement with the community in an effort to build new and diverse audiences.

Columbus Museum of Art: These various communication pieces show the mission statement idea of removing barriers with the community. As with the Symphony and theatre, the Museum makes a strong effort to position itself on the democracy side of the spectrum while also underlining the quality of the artwork that it presents


In all three cases, there were consistent messages presented that reflected mission statement themes. All three clearly made an effort to be publicly and financially accessible through a number of free events. These arts organizations overall are working to position themselves on the democratic side of the continuum. The results of this study did suggest that today’s arts organizations are, to varying degrees, adapting to the many changes in technology and increasing democratization that have occurred over the past several decades. They seem to be effectively communicating organizational missions, attempting to break down elitist barriers, and working to balance quality artwork and audience accessibility.


Reference:  Foreman-Wernet, Lois. “Reflections on Elitism: What Arts Organizations Communicate About Themselves.” The Journal of arts management, law, and society 47.4 (2017): 274–289. Web.

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