SMU’s National Center for Arts Research issues first report

SMU Meadows School of the ArtsSMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) has released its inaugural report assessing the health of the nonprofit arts industry.

The report, available online at smu.edu/artsresearch, is built on the most comprehensive set of arts organization data ever compiled, integrating organizational  and market-level data, and assesses the industry from multiple perspectives, including sector/art form, geography, and size of the organization.

The NCAR report is the first of its kind for the arts, creating a data-driven assessment of organizations’ performances industry-wide and identifying drivers of performance.

NCAR is led by faculty at the University’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business in collaboration with the Cultural Data Project (CDP) and other national partners. The vision of NCAR, the first of its kind in the nation, is to act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community. In its first study, researchers were able to determine the extent to which managerial and artistic experience and decision-making impact an organization’s performance.

“NCAR is the first organization in the country to examine the performance of the arts industry from a statistical, data-driven perspective,” said Meadows Dean José Bowen. “Not only have we assembled the most comprehensive database and conducted the most in-depth analysis of the industry ever undertaken, but we are sharing these findings freely with the entire industry and providing tools for individual organizations to understand themselves and make changes to improve their performance. This is what makes the project unique – we are not just producing another index of how arts organizations are doing. The ultimate goal of NCAR is to improve the health of both individual organizations and the entire arts and culture ecosystem in the United States.”

To create the inaugural report, NCAR researchers integrated and analyzed data from the CDP and other national and government sources such as the Theatre Communications Group, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Census Bureau, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics. In doing so they created a spatial model of the arts and culture ecosystem of the United States.  The report measures performance on 8 different indices: contributed revenue, earned revenue, expenses, marketing impact, bottom line, balance sheet, community engagement, and program activity.

For each index, overall averages were calculated, as well as averages by sector, by organizational size, and by geographic area. These were broken down into 9 different market clusters, including 5 cities identified as stand-alone markets (New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago).

SMU Meadows School of the ArtsBeyond simply reporting on performance, the NCAR study evaluated specific drivers of performance and then, controlling for these drivers, NCAR was able to create a level playing field for all organizations in order to compare performance across organizations. From this, NCAR estimated how much of the remaining performance variation is attributable to intangible, difficult-to-observe-and-measure characteristics such as good decision-making and managerial or artistic expertise and how much is simply random variation.

NCAR draws on the academic expertise of Meadows and Cox faculty in the fields of arts management, marketing, and statistics. Zannie Voss, chair and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows and Cox schools, serves as NCAR’s director and Glenn Voss, the Marilyn R. and Leo F. Corrigan, Jr. Endowed Professor of Marketing at Cox, serves as research director.

“In this first report we took a deep dive into eight of the areas of performance identified, and by studying these averages, tried to answer the question ‘all else being equal, what makes one arts organization more successful than another?’ Some of the findings were as one would expect, but we did find some surprises,” said Zannie Voss. “Perhaps more than any other industry, arts organizations are driven by managerial and artistic expertise. Being able to estimate the value of this expertise in an organization’s performance is the single most valuable result of our first study.”

In 2014, NCAR will launch an interactive dashboard, created in partnership with IBM, which will be accessible to arts organizations nationwide. Arts leaders will be able to enter information about their organizations and see how they compare to the highest performance standards in each of the eight indices for similar organizations. The website will also foster public discussion of best practices and solutions and offer a dedicated YouTube channel for video responses, as well as an online resource library with helpful tools and templates.

Written by Victoria Winkelman

> Read more, including report highlights, at SMU News

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