Art Data and
Why it Matters

Importance of Data
Most corporations understand the intrinsic value of data in running and growing the enterprise. Regardless of size and location, the availability and understanding of data to a business can mean the difference between success and failure, or it may become the tool that helps the company prosper efficiently.
This is no different for the arts. There are certainly a plethora of types and sources of data, so selection, understanding, and application of elements that drive your individual decisions may develop over time, as the reliability and relevance are determined. Some data for arts administrators will be self-generated, as an off-shoot of running the day-to-day business:

  • Revenue and sources (precise records of grants, contributions, ticket sales, exhibitions)
  • Labor – positions, openings, recruitment, costs
  • Expenses – rent, insurance, facilities expenses, security, maintenance, public relations

Those are some basic categories. It’s critical to track each and every category, to arrive at a total picture of performance, and to generate a benchmark that will formulate the basis for future analysis of trends and pinpoint deviations.
What to Measure
What you measure will be dependent on what your intention is for the results. If the goal is to obtain additional funding from investors, focus on growth trends, increasing population in the region, and improved performance factors such as successful cost reductions.
When working with a particular venue for ticketed events, utilize past ticket sale information to help determine future seating prices in various portions of the venue. Are radiating orchestra seats outselling front-and-center? Are box seats going unsold? Data can aid greatly in establishing future prices, and also to compare against ticket sales for like performances in other cities. You could be overpricing the performance, or missing out on profitability. Data will put such information at your fingertips, avoiding assumption-based pricing.
Don’t make the mistake that many have – comparing measurements that may really not apply. Measuring revenues or expenses of your non-profit gallery in Syracuse will not likely be meaningful compared with a for-profit operation in London. Remember the apples-to-apples rule to generate meaningful analyses.
Sample similar examples for effective results – not all creative industries can be applied to each other effectively. Ensure your data covers the same timeframes (seasonal variations can be considerable). Understand the source and value of the data you’ve selected. Not all sources are as reliable as you may be led to believe. Just check your sources, as a good reporter might do.
Americans for the Arts launched its National Arts Index and Local Arts Index with a phenomenal amount of data on culture and the arts that covers community and county-wide information related to the arts, back to 2009. This publicly-available site compiles data from reliable sources that include:

  • Urban Institute
  • Dun & Bradstreet
  • Federal bureaus such as Census, Economic Analysis, Labor Statistics, and more
  • Scarborough Research
  • Nielsen Claritas

Although the data typically lags in reporting, it provides quick insight into consumer spending on the arts across many categories: music making, photography, admissions, and more.
The magic of data is translating it into useful information. Administrators or small business owners may be wise to get input from experienced data analysts to get started on the right foot. Sourcing, combining, and analyzing data can be an art form in itself, so spend the time to understand the entire process.
All data also has limitations: frequency of updates, scope of data, sources, and level of detail. Refining sources as their relevance is determined useful for your purposes is a natural evolution of the analytical process.
What to Do with the Results
Benefits of the resulting data can be considerable and diverse:

  • Present visual presentation to employees for encouragement (or incentives for improvement)
  • Generate charts and graphs to demonstrate performance for potential investors
  • Report trends and improvements for management and shareholders
  • Track efficiency and monitor deviations quickly, to respond effectively to any problem areas
  • Combat misinformation with actual facts that are verifiable

When making a presentation based on your data analysis, be sure to remember the three basic components of beginning, middle, and end. Present the underlying intent of the information, display the supporting data that supports the hypothesis, then summarize – again with data that supports your conclusions.
Keywords: Art Data
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