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The Arts as Part of Americans' 'Pursuit of Happiness': Where Does North Texas Stand?

by Jerome Weeks 10 Aug 2011 9:53 AM

The University of Virginia’s Scholar’s Lab has mapped America’s pursuit of happiness according to the “ratio of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments to county populations.” See how we compare to the rest of the country.


According to the NYTimes, there’s a new series of digital maps created by the Scholars’ Lab, a web site run by the University of Virginia Library about developments in what’s known as the “digital humanities.” These new maps try to convert ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ into quantities that can be measured on county maps of the US.  Life and liberty are easy enough to quantify and display: Just co-relate the data for life expectancy to location or the date for imprisonment to location. (Needless to say,  Southern states do not fare well in either case.)

The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a little trickier (quick: define “happiness”). In this case,  happiness is seen as “the ratio of arts, entertainment and recreation establishments to the total population.” (One wonders if “recreation establishments” includes major-league sports teams and stadiums, parks, lakes, handball courts, book clubs, NASCAR race tracks and, oh, bars and casinos.)

As a result, some of the less populous places — Wyoming and Montana, the deserts of Utah, for pete’s sake — are just giddy with cultural endeavors, it seems, though this is less a testament to their many fine arts establishments than to the fact that such a tiny number of people (comparatively speaking) actually live there. You could put up a lemonade stand and significantly upgrade the general level of cultural activity.

Similarly, what the Times doesn’t note is that New York City itself, for all of its status as our Cultural Capital, doesn’t rate all that highly. Hamilton County in upstate New York, the most consistently Republican county in the state and one with no towns bigger than a couple thousand people, rates higher than Manhattan.

So the maps, as the Times does note, are meant to be entertaining and thought-provoking more than they are true instruments of definition. But Dallas-Fort Worth? Well, despite all of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on gaining (warning: dread jargon term) “world-class” arts facilities and the recent (and recently stalled) effort of suburbs to build the same, Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties all seem to be the same: plus or minus half a percent (standard deviation) below  middling average. Not gleeful but not truly glum, either.

Mildly dissatisfied? Perturbed? Stoic? Subdued? Pleasant? It’s a hard state of mind to capture. Yee – but no haw?

Other characterizations are welcome.