American Culture

An international study of culture and economies ranks the U.S. first in “cultural capital.”

The study will be presented Thursday at Florens 2010, an international forum on cultural heritage being held in Florence. Philippe de Montebello, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is among the presenting speakers

In a 10-month study, the European House-Ambrosetti, a Italian consulting group, ranked seven nations on such measures as museum attendance (U.S. ranked third in the world) and the number of university students per 100 people (the U.S. ranked first with 5.8), according to study co-author and senior consultant Silvia Colombo. There was also a “media” measure that included how many music compact discs are sold and how many movie tickets sold. Where the U.S. lost points: adult education and the number of newspaper copies printed per person (Japan was first). Plus, there’s the arguable definition of culture: Twenty-six percent of Americans defined an art gallery as culture, but 34 percent cited food and wine. Nonetheless, in total capital, America took first place before the U.K., France and Italy.

That’s flattering, particularly since European studies of culture have tended to rate America a backwater. But what’s interesting is the study’s economic conclusions. Judging cultural spending against a nation’s overall economy, the researchers concluded that a country can achieve a 2.5-euro return for every euro spent on culture.

Some things were universal. People surveyed worldwide gave the same reasons for skipping cultural activities: high prices and crowds.

American Culture