Commentary: Without the data, you're just another person with an opinion

Randy Cohen, Americans for the Arts blog, 4/11/12

Three years before writing Future Shock in 1970, Alvin Toffler first wrote The Art of Measuring the Arts, and noted, "A cultural data system is needed to provide information for rational policy-making in the cultural field and to assist those outside the field in understanding their impact on it." Americans for the Arts [recently] released the 2012 National Arts Index report, which delivers a score of the health and vitality of the arts in the U.S [through 2010]. This year's report bears witness to how the arts sector fared during the Great Recession. In 2010, half of the 83 indicators measured increased, which is equivalent to pre-recession, 2007 levels. Only one-third of the indicators were up in 2008 and, in 2009, just one-quarter increased. Here are just a few top-level findings from the [latest] Index:

1. Significant growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations: From 2003-2010, a new nonprofit arts organization was created every three hours in the U.S.

2. The percentage of organizations with an operating deficit declined for the first time since 2007. In 2010, 43% of nonprofit arts organizations had an operating deficit.

3. Arts attendance begins to rebound: In 2010, 32% of the adult population attended a performing arts event (up from 28% in 2009). 13% visited an art museum (up from 12%). These are the first increases since 2003.

The natural question [is] "Are these trends happening where I live?" To answer this question, we set sail with 100 local arts agency partners. Want to do something cool? Click on the Local Arts Index tab at the top of the page and a map of the U.S. will come up. Select your state and then county. You can do direct county-to-county comparisons online and download a county-specific report. Take a minute to visit the FAQ page as well to learn more about the methodology as well as our 100 local partners who pioneered the way for the rest of us. This is a new website on the front of a high-octane online database. Remember, without the data, you're just another person with an opinion...


Cultural Data Project and major cities' arts databases also provide insights

Southern Methodist University website, 2/15/12

SMU's Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business hosted a public forum on February 13 with the Cultural Data Project -- operated by The Pew Charitable Trusts -- and the national arts marketing consulting firm TRG Arts to discuss the value of using in-depth data analysis to assess the condition of the arts in the United States. Before a group of 200 attendees that included executive leadership from more than 50 North Texas arts and cultural organizations, representatives from TRG Arts and the CDP talked about their work nationally, including the insight their data can provide on arts consumer behavior and the effect managerial decisions have on attendance, patronage and the overall health of the arts in America. Both the CDP, based in Philadelphia, and TRG Arts, based in Colorado Springs, gather large amounts of arts data in the U.S. The CDP has been compiling information from cultural organizations since 2004. It is in the midst of a national expansion and now collects data from nearly 12,500 cultural organizations in 11 densely populated states and the District of Columbia about their finances, programs and operations. TRG Arts analyzes arts databases for 18 metropolitan areas in the U.S. with information on the arts patronage of more than 20 million households. Currently, Dallas arts organizations are not part of either the CDP's or TRG Arts' efforts. "There is rich potential for exploring what these two national data sets can reveal about the arts in the U.S., especially when combined with U.S. Census Bureau data," said forum moderator Zannie Voss, professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship. Rick Lester, president of TRG Arts, discussed the benefits of sharing data among arts organizations, stating, "Data helps organizations stop guessing about what works and answer the question, 'are we normal?'"


Commentary: UK arts should build a "FrankenBase" of audience data

Patrick Hussey, digital campaigns manager at Arts & Business [UK], The Guardian, 3/29/12

Imagine every cultural organisation using one system to capture [and convert] data into useful insights. We could track ticket purchasers, measure and map audiences, compare web analytics, monitor social data, share donors. Imagine the questions we could start to answer. What time of day do people buy tickets online? What age do they start to give? What areas of the country respond to what web layout? Imagine the lifelong picture of arts audiences we could start to build. Collating and distributing this information would be child's play in a shared system and, the thing is, most of it is already built. The part we would have to build would be the report generator. Of course we would [also] have to hire a team of data wranglers to analyse and make this data useful. Then again, why just give it away? A really intriguing economic option opens up with big data, especially if you agree with this new cliché that data is the new oil. The arts could sell its data to marketing or internet search firms the way Songkick sell to Yahoo. Imagine that? A capitalistic resource fuelling experimental art. The thing is, there are a few problems. Yes, there are arts organisations that share back office systems but nothing so ambitious as this. Other sectors [have] tried something like it and failed horribly. Privacy is another minefield. Then there is the issue of competition. Is the theatre down the road a fellow data pilgrim or simply a competitor? Are we prepared as a sector to share so deeply? Still, a unified system that collects multiple data streams is an intriguing possibility. For the first time we would begin to collect big data on the UK arts, taking a digital and evolving impression of the relationship culture has with the country. Given time to mature, it could mean more than shared information - telling us not just how we are doing but where to go next. We could even give this project a name. Considering all the stitching involved, perhaps #FrankenBase would work.


> FROM TC: Last Friday, April 20th, there was a live chat hosted by The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network about this idea. You can read the comments posted here.


A pilot project maps and shares data on performing arts touring in Europe

On The Move website, 11/14/11

TheSPACE project has undertaken experimental research in linking and sharing data on international performing arts touring across Europe and produced some extraordinary maps through the Travelogue.

Travelogue is part of SPACE ["Support the Performing Arts Circulation in Europe'], a platform dedicated to support the performing arts circulation in Europe. Within this mobility project (2008-2011) Travelogue undertakes an experimental research in linking and sharing data on international performing arts touring that are collected by institutions all over Europe. This website consists of a final report with the steps taken during the project and a first analysis of the available data, a prototype where you can browse through all the data and a toolkit for organizations wanting to collaborate in sharing their data on a European level:

  • Country profiles: shedding light on the import/export patterns in performing arts
  • City maps with hotspots: showing how intensely cities host internationally touring productions
  • Country map: which countries host internationally-touring European productions 

= = =


An online exhibit, turning mountains of data into meaningful art

J. Michael Welton for The Huffington Post, 10/27/11

For Wired magazine executive editor Thomas Goetz, it was an opportunity to transform mountains of data into meaningful art. With Adobe, he curated InForm: Turning Data into Meaning, an online exhibit of the works of ten graphic artists. "Basically, I wanted to use the digital medium of the web to show data visualization -- to show it in a new and robust way," he says. He sought not just to depict the visualization of online data, but the beautiful and compelling aspects of it as well. For example, one artist graphically depicts the number of tweets broadcast in the minutes leading up to New Year's Day in Amsterdam -- and then the dramatic and exuberant spikes in tweets just as the new year arrives. "When you go online, you think you're spending time in a digital reality -- that's the conventional wisdom," he says. "You think it's not much more meaningful than if you're watching television. But that's changing -- now you can actually see what you're doing." The exhibit celebrates a new generation of visual pioneers -- part graphic designer, part statistician, part artist -- who have a facility for turning data into meaning. 

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