SMU NCAR meets challenge grant, announces $1 million in gifts for arts research

Donna Wilhelm photo by Kim Leeson
Donna Wilhelm (photo by Kim Leeson)

SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) announced that it has successfully met a $500,000 challenge grant from Dallas philanthropist and civic leader Donna Wilhelm, raising a total of $1 million in 2015 for research, programs and services.

The purpose of the challenge grant, given by Wilhelm in February 2015 with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, was to generate $500,000 for operating support for the center. Wilhelm’s matching funds will endow a new Wilhelm Research Fellow for NCAR. The center, which was established in 2012 by the University’s Meadows School of the Arts and Cox School of Business, analyzes the largest database of arts research ever assembled, investigates important issues in arts management and patronage, and makes its findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public.

“The National Center for Arts Research has broken new ground in analyzing and interpreting data about the arts and cultural field in the U.S.,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “NCAR’s thought-provoking research is already helping both new and established arts organizations across the country. The University is grateful to benefactor Donna Wilhelm and the donors who supported the challenge grant for their dedication to the important work of the Center.”

An NCAR advisory board member who has supported the center since its founding, Wilhelm approached NCAR with the offer of the challenge grant. “As a donor, I fund initiatives that serve broad needs and have leveraged impact,” said Wilhelm. “The National Center for Arts Research established at SMU, where scholarly excellence and innovation thrives, met my philanthropic goal.  I also believe in strategic investing.  My challenge grant was structured to sustain operating support for NCAR and establish a Research Fellow endowment.  Thanks to generous and visionary donors, we achieved both.  Donors collaborating were able to empower the unlimited potential of NCAR and foster the health of arts organizations nationwide – I salute this amazing teamwork.”

Individual donors and foundations who contributed to help NCAR meet the challenge grant include Jennifer and Peter Altabef; Belle and Don Berg; Diane and Hal Brierley; Melissa and Trevor Fetter; Ann and Trey Fielder; Carol and Don Glendenning/Locke Lord LLP; Ann and Lee Hobson; T.J. Brown & C.A. Lupton Foundation/Kit Moncrief; Communities Foundation of Texas; M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation; Carl B. and Florence E. King Foundation; The Sarah and Ross Perot, Jr. Foundation; Vin and Caren Prothro Foundation/Perkins-Prothro Foundation; and the Tolleson Family Foundation.

“In a few short years, NCAR has placed Meadows at the epicenter of evidence-based insight into the arts ecosystem with the underlying purpose of helping arts leaders make better decisions,” said Meadows Dean Samuel Holland. “This significant gift from Donna Wilhelm and all those who contributed to meeting the challenge will allow us to sharpen our focus, build scale, and extend the reach of NCAR to places where its work is most needed.”

The first Wilhelm Research Fellow is Richard Briesch, professor of marketing in the Cox School. Briesch holds a Ph.D. in marketing from Northwestern, an M.B.A. from Rice and a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from Carnegie Mellon.

“Rick has been working with NCAR since we launched in 2012,” said Zannie Voss, director of NCAR.  “He is one of the most well-respected econometricians in the country and specializes in consumer behavior.”

Voss added, “We are so grateful to Donna Wilhelm and our additional generous donors for endowing the research fellowship and providing critical operating support that will help NCAR continue its dedicated work to help arts and cultural organizations nationwide.”

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SMU NCAR publishes white paper on measuring strength, effectiveness of culturally specific arts organizations

SMU’s National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) has released a white paper that examines the distinguishing characteristics of arts organizations that primarily serve Asian American, African American, and Hispanic/Latino communities.

Andrea Louie
Andrea Louie

The study is designed to provide insights, based on measurable data, about the operating contexts and unique challenges that these organizations face. Co-authored with Andrea Louie, executive director of the Asian American Arts Alliance, and Zenetta Drew, executive director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre, the goal of the white paper is to provide a more nuanced understanding of culturally specific organizations and to help establish a more equitable measure of their performance.

> Read the NCAR white paper: “Does ‘Strong and Effective’ Look Different for Culturally Specific Arts Organizations?”

Zenetta Drew
Zenetta Drew

Inspired by the DeVos Institute’s 2015 publication “Diversity in the Arts: The Past, Present and Future of African American and Latino Museums, Dance Companies, and Theater Companies,” NCAR’s paper responds to two key aspects of the DeVos Institute’s findings: first, that arts organizations of color are in general smaller and “far less secure” than their mainstream counterparts; and second, that funders might see greater results by providing larger grants to a smaller number of “effective” organizations, rather than continuing to fund a larger number of organizations through smaller grants.

Based on its research, NCAR found that culturally specific arts organizations are not disproportionately smaller than their mainstream peers. Taking into account their sector and age, the data shows that they are generally younger and therefore at a different stage in their evolution than mainstream organizations.

NCAR argues that the funding model proposed by DeVos would be detrimental to the cultural ecology, as it could effectively reduce the overall number of smaller organizations and therefore diminish the level of diversity, dynamism, and innovation in the field. NCAR calls for a deeper understanding of culturally specific organizations before significantly altering or abandoning their funding.

NCAR Report“We recognize that culturally specific organizations have particular characteristics that should be understood for what they are, neither good nor bad nor a sign of ineffectiveness but simply a different starting point,” said Zannie Voss, NCAR director. “With this study, we want to reframe how we assess the performance of these organizations by identifying the differences in their operating contexts and by establishing a more precise framework of what expected performance should look like, rooted in evidence-based research.”

— Victoria Winkelman

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