Sustainability of the arts in 15 U.S. cities  

Study examines the sustainability of arts sector in Columbus & 14 other U.S. cities

The Columbus Foundation website, January 25, 2011 [hat tip to Andrew Taylor]

A study conducted by AMS Planning & Research to assess the depth, breadth, and sustainability of the cultural sector in Columbus [includes] a first-of-its-kind index to benchmark the qualities of robust and reliable arts sectors, including the capitalization necessary to succeed. The study compared 14 cities to Columbus in the following categories: attendance and market, contributed income, human capital, assets, and product. The key findings include:

  • Columbus' arts sector is viable but not sustainable given the current level of resources
  • Earned revenue in the sector [declined] 27.3% ($4.8 million)
  • Contributed revenue increased: individual giving by124%, corporate contributions by 5%
  • Per capita public sector support is well below average in the benchmark cities.
  • Only one-third of Columbus' 36 arts organizations have an endowment.

To achieve sustainability, AMS recommended an investment in audience research to build a more effective earned-income sales effort, advocacy for local and statewide dedicated tax revenue, and achieve alignment between the arts sectors' goals and the larger goals for central Ohio region.

Specifically, the following targets (before inflation) were identified over a ten-year time horizon:

  • Annual increase of 4% for aggregate sales to generate over $15 million in additional revenues
  • A public sector funding goal of $20 million requires a 5.6% annual increase in support
  • An increase of 6/10s of one-percent in the private sector would generate an additional
  • $4 million putting the community on par with benchmark cities
  • A longer-term goal of achieving a $50-$65 million endowment should be established

Click to view a copy of the Columbus Arts Market Sustainability Analysis.


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Commentary: How my small nonprofit saved $176,000 a year on technology costs

William Grassie,, February 20, 2011

Like many nonprofits struggling in the economic downturn, my organization has tightened its belt. A year ago we reduced our work force from 10 to four and cut our budget by almost two-thirds.   We [took] a particularly hard look at the technology we use.  We made a number of big changes and small tweaks, which not only resulted in greater cost savings but also made us more nimble as an organization. When the overhaul was complete, we had cut our technology expenses -- including phone service --from $5,000 to $300 per month. We no longer needed our own technology staff, which gave us additional savings of nearly $10,000 per month. All told, we're saving about $176,000 a year on an annual budget that now stands at $385,000.  Here are some highlights of our transformation:

A cloud file server. Instead of storing data on hard disks at our physical office, we now gain access to our collective files over the Internet.

Free help from Google. One of our biggest expenses was for an outside technology service that managed Microsoft Exchange Server, desktop IT support, and remote backups. We switched to Google Apps, which as a nonprofit we could get free.

A new database. The Salesforce Foundation offers qualified nonprofits free use of its Web-based customer-relations management system.

Phone service. We opted to go with a virtual system that works through our laptops' built-in speakers and microphones. $45 a month for four lines.

Meeting and working remotely. Working more from home offices, we needed ways to video conference and share computer screens. Skype provides these services free. Working on Macs, we also use another free service, iChat.

Accounting on the cloud. For $35 a month, we now use QuickBooks Online, which allows multiple people to gain access securely to information about the company's finances.

New laptops for everyone. We [converted] the remaining employees to MacBook Pro laptops, backed up on a little white Apple Time Capsule [which] replaces our server, a jungle of Ethernet cables, and provides backup redundancy with the Internet cloud server.

Processing donations. PayPal offers a discounted service for nonprofits. Instead of 6% per transaction plus monthly fees, we pay about 2% per transaction.

The problem with computer technology is that it is always changing. Early adopters often make expensive mistakes. It's easy to get locked into a system, which makes it more difficult to change, but change we must. And in this case, the changes were wonderful because the result was so sweet -- and so cheap.


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Commentary: The new role that critics can play in an era with millions of opinions

Douglas McLennan, National Arts Journalism Program blog, February 21, 2011

As jobs for critics at mainstream publications have disappeared and hundreds of thousands of bloggers, Twitterers and Facebookers have taken to the web expressing their own opinions, many are wondering if there's still a role for the professional critic... It seems to me that with millions of opinions running around chasing one another, the challenge is to sort out which are the interesting ones. Rather than diminish the importance of really good critics, an ocean of opinion ought to make the great critic stand out as even more valuable. I've always thought of critics as also being curators. They define their territory and report back what's important. Today, what's important also includes what others are saying. Jeff Jarvis has a saying: "Do what you do best and link to the rest." That means being aware of what others are saying, synthesizing it and adding crucial insight. The best of the new breed go a step further -- they become the means by which people who are interested in a topic can talk to one another about it. In this model, the critic is at the center of a conversation rather than the preacher at a revival meeting. They're essential to a community because they set agendas and help define what's important. Same as critics always did. Except different.


Commentary: Broadway's sluggish ticket sales may be good news for critics

Michael Riedel, The New York Post, February 23, 2011

Broadway's beginning to perk up. In a month or so, there won't be an empty theater, and Times Square will fill with tourists looking to see a show. Yet producers are on edge right now because nothing's selling all that well.  Some producers blame Spider-Man The Musical for sucking all the attention away from everybody else. "Can you please write about something else?" one producer has asked me repeatedly in the past few weeks.  Others think that because none of the other shows has a gold-plated, brand-name title, theatergoers are taking a wait-and-see attitude. This will be good news to critics, who may have a little resurgence of power in the spring as they sort the winners from the losers. "I think the plays with stars will be fine once the public gets some reassurance," says a veteran press agent. "People don't know these shows -- they need to be told they're good."

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