October survey to gauge support for island arts

tbarton@islandpacket.comSeptember 7, 2013 

A consulting group hired by the Town of Hilton Head Island will soon ask residents and visitors to serve as art critics.

Island residents will be asked in October to take an online survey intended to gauge support for island arts programs and determine how they would be willing to support it financially, said Jill Foster, the town's deputy director of community development.

Visitors, as well, will be polled in a separate survey conducted by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce to determine how the arts influence their travel choices and desire to come to Hilton Head, Foster said.

An attempt Friday to reach a chamber official for comment was unsuccessful.

The town hired Cultural Planning Group of Philadelphia to suggest ways to get the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina and other arts groups on solid financial footing, to determine how much public money the town should provide to arts organizations, and suggest what should be done about costly maintenance and repairs the center's building needs.

As part of that, the consultants will conduct a web-based public opinion poll to help town officials gauge community support -- or lack of it -- for the arts, said Martin Cohen, a partner with Cultural Planning Group.

"We will be looking at what's important to the community around arts and culture, what the town's role should be in arts and culture and what residents believe is the type of support that should come from the town," Cohen said.

He said the consulting firm is still drafting questions for the survey and determining how best to distribute it.

Foster said the town will feature a link to the survey on its homepage and plans to send "email blasts" to those signed up to receive town notifications. Foster also intends to enlist the help of civic groups to encourage participation.

Cohen said postcards directing people to the survey will also likely be distributed at the island library, recreation center and other "gathering places."

The consulting group will also conduct 45-minute "community conversations," in which volunteers unaffiliated with the town or arts or culture groups will ask residents a set of questions in person and document their responses, Cohen said. Dates, times and locations for those meetings have not yet been established, he said.

"It's really important to hear from the community of what's important to them and what they see as the role of their municipal government in this process," he said. "Our hope is to have a sizable portion -- a statistically valid sample of the people -- who participate in the survey, and will monitor responses. ... If we see there are areas of the community or demographic groups that aren't participating, we'll identify ways to push involvement and responses. We want a fully-balanced representation across the community."

Participants would not be randomly selected, Cohen acknowledged.

The results of polls in which respondents are randomly selected are regarded as more accurate than polls whose respondents decide on their own to participate or polls whose respondents are picked by the organization that conducts the poll, according to experts. When participants are "self-selected," bias can be introduced. People who feel strongly about an issue tend to participate, while those who are lukewarm may not, thus the respondents may not be representative of the population as a whole.

Councilwoman Kim Likins and other council members said Tuesday after a tour of the arts center that the community survey will be crucial in their decision making.

"To me, that's going to speak volumes ... (of) how the community feels about supporting the arts with public funding," Likins said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom

Related content:

Building tour changes little on Hilton Head council support for Arts Center + video: Sept. 3, 2013

Hilton Head council to boost support for arts center, boating facility: June 3, 2013

Cultural Planning Group

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