Arts Data Galore

February 15, 2014 - Last week, CAPACOA and Strategic Moves were fortunate to be invited to participate in a symposium on the state of arts data and research in North America. Here's a summary.

Panel discussion on Arts Economics: Managing Multiple Bottom LinesThe event, entitled The Value of Presenting after CAPACOA's study, was hosted by the CREATE Initiative of the College of Arts, Media and Design at Northeastern University in Boston. Participants included ArtsBoston, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural, the National Endowment for the Arts, American for the Arts, as well as more than 150 New England arts organizations, foundations, students an research enthusiasts.

Several large-scale research initiatives were presented, all of which proved to be both reliant and thriving on collaboration. The ArtsBoston Audience Initiative (AAI) was explored in depth. This big data project aggregates ticketing and donations data from 56 participating arts organizing and overlays this patron information with psychographic data to create a rich database about 1.4 million households in the greater Boston area. Many cases illustrated how such data could be turned into action. Central Square Theatre used the AAI data to send tailored exclusive offers to first-time buyers in order to convert them into multi-buyers and subscribers, increasing their reactivation rate from 10% to 17%. The AAI database also brought organizations attention to the gap between their audiences and the actual demographics of the Greater Boston Area. The Huntington Theatre Company sought to increase the ethnocultural diversity of their audience base by creating a free community membership for low-income residents. This free membership empowered community members to purchase $15 tickets for any seat at any performance. This initiative, along with strategic programming decisions, made it possible for the Huntington Theatre to increase by 187% their number of visible minority patrons in two years.

Many discussions focused on unconventional research methods and qualitative measurements. Besides the action research approach of The Value of Presenting, Sarah Lee, from Slover Linett Audience Research, highlighted other qualitative approaches such as collaborative audience panels or ethnography. Panelists also stressed the importance of blending quantitative and qualitative data and to involve all departments: a comment from an audience member is data and should be recorded as such by whomever receives it.

Amidst all the presentations and panel discussions, participants were tasked to answer challenging questions:

  • Curiosity: What are questions does your organization need to answer about past, current and future audiences?
  • Process: How do you capture data on audiences now? How do you want to be able to capture and track audience data and information?
  • Action: How do you make the leap from having data to actionable insights?

In terms of the data generation process, different organizations are in difference places: for some “getting data is not the problem” but getting data on non-audiences is hard; for others data collection and analysis gets pushed off the priority list; for others data capture remains the big challenge. In most organizations, it is marketing staff who deals with data, and there is interest on programming side for insights to consider, but it sounds like a weak link. Finally, the panels have given everyone new ideas on how to translate data into actionable insights. But it did look like there were some unfilled needs in terms of capacity to undertake rigorous analysis of all manner of data and develop insights and meaning for the whole organization so that it can be effective in making the necessary decisions.

We are really thankful to the CREATE Centre for having invited us to attend this symposium, and it we hope it can spark similar conversations in Canada.

Read the full digital program from the symposium



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