Connecting state and local government leaders
The more the arts can quantify its benefits, the better the sector can communicate its positive impact on communities, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies.
While cities utilize data to help shape policy and identify service gaps, data about arts and culture is occasionally met with skepticism. However, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and rising demand for equity, the desire for reliable arts information will only increase as municipalities with limited resources face critical decisions in their efforts toward recovery, according to a report by Bloomberg Associates.
Before the pandemic, the U.S. had about 4,500 local arts agencies collectively investing $2.8 billion in nonprofit culture each year, including $600 million of direct investment through grants, contracts and loans, making local public funding one of the largest sources of support for the arts, the report says.
Chief Executive Officer of Bloomberg Philanthropies Patricia Harris said to get public support for the arts, it is critical to show the benefits they offer.
"The more we can quantify some of the benefits of the arts in a meaningful way, the more we can communicate its impact—not just on individual hearts and minds, but also its impact as a public service," Harris said in a recent webinar.
The four following points were consistently cited in framing the complexities of government data collection in the arts, according to the report:
- The case for culture. Without good data, the cultural field risks being excluded from civic policymaking alongside other priority service areas, Bloomberg Associates David Andersson said in the webinar.
- Using what matters. Accounting for certain aspects of the arts is not difficult; however, the metrics that are easily collected are often inconsistent in predicting short- or long-term cultural value.
- Providing resources. Public funding organizations are often under pressure to justify internal expenses, so finding effective, low-cost strategies for removing value from data can be a continuous struggle.
- “Uniforms for unicorns”. Even with strong data, the diversity of art activities can make it challenging to reconcile numbers and outcomes across the sector. And value and impact are hard to compare. As a result, data is sometimes perceived as being secondary to the arts and, at worst, a means of undermining it.
Data Collection Priorities
The local arts agency leaders interviewed by Bloomberg Associates were strongly aligned around the following four priorities when making decisions about data collection, all of which amplified during the pandemic:
- Compliance. What information needs to be collected and reviewed to ensure compliance with all regulatory and oversight functions required for public funding.
- Field knowledge. What data is most helpful in gaining and sharing a deeper understanding of the local arts sector.
- Advocacy. What actionable datasets can speed understanding of timely issues and garner more resources.
- Equity. What data is essential to evaluating equitable access to public funding.
"The more that advocates have access to good data and know how to use it effectively, the more successful they'll be in ensuring arts play an even greater role in shaping civic policies and budgets," Harris said.
For more information from the Bloomberg Associates report click here.
Andre Claudio is an assistant editor at Route Fifty.