Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THE NATIONAL ARTS INDEX

Hello everyone.

“And the beat goes on..................”


THE NATIONAL ARTS INDEX:

Kicking off its’ 50th Anniversary, Americans for the Arts this morning released its long in preparation NATIONAL ARTS INDEX – an annual single number score that purports to measure the health and vitality of the arts in America (both for profit and nonprofit sectors). Think: Consumer Confidence Index.

The measurement is distilled from a huge amount of data and based on 76 separate indicators - grouped in four broad categories to arrive at an “Arts & Culture Balanced Scorecard”:

• “Financial Flows” include private and public support to institutions, pay of individual artists, and revenues of arts businesses and nonprofits. All of these are payment for artistic services and provide fuel for capacity to produce arts activities and experiences for arts audiences.

• “Capacity” indicators measure relatively durable levels of institutions, capital, employment, and payroll levels in the arts and culture system. Capacity and infrastructure transform financial flows into arts activities.

•"Arts Participation” indicators measure actual consumption of those activities, which may be in the form of goods, services, or experiences.

• “Competitiveness” indicators illustrate the position of the arts compared to other sectors in society, using measures of market share and economic impact.

The purpose according to the Report is to promote dialogue and discussion on the arts and its role in American life on multiple levels and fronts. It is an enormously ambitious effort and the sheer size of the aggregated data unquestionably raises questions the sector should address.

The Index covers a ten year span from 1999 to 2008, with 2003 set to a base score of 100. The higher the score, the better arts industries in America are faring.

According to the report: "The 2008 National Arts Index fell 4 points to a score of 98.4, reflecting losses in charitable giving and declining attendance at larger cultural institutions, even as the number of arts organizations grew. The 2008 downturn in the Index was not wholly unexpected. With 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and 600,000 more arts-related businesses, 2.24 million artists in the workforce, and billions of dollars in consumer spending, the arts industries largely track the nation’s business cycle. A score of 105.5 would return the Index to its highest point, measured in 1999.

Key findings from the National Arts Index report (as highlighted by Americans for the Arts) include:

• “Demand for the arts lags supply. Between 1998 and 2008, there was a steady increase in the number of artists, arts organizations, and arts-related employment. Nonprofit arts organizations alone grew in number from 73,000 to 104,000 during this span of time. That one out of three failed to achieve a balanced budget even during the strongest economic years of this decade suggests that sustaining this capacity is a growing challenge, and these gains are at risk.

• How the public participates in and consumes the arts is expanding. Tens of millions of people attend concerts, plays, opera, and museum exhibitions, yet the percentage of the U.S. population attending these arts events is shrinking, and the decline is noticeable. On the increase, however, is the percentage of the American public personally creating art (e.g., music making and drawing). Technology is changing how Americans experience the arts and consumption via technology and social media is also up.

• The competitiveness of the arts is slipping. While the nature of arts participation is changing, not all arts organizations are equally adept at meeting changes in demand. The arts, in many ways, are not “stacking up” well against other uses of audience members’ time, donor and funder commitment, or spending when compared to non-arts sectors."


Note on the methodology:  Doubtless critics will decry the use of a single number index to denote the health and vitality of something so complex and far reaching as the arts in America as too simplistic and as an exercise which may actually harm the arts in the longer term by pandering to popular media portrayal of the arts as just another marker in the dumbing down of the whole of society. To be sure any gathering of statistical data – and most certainly one as far reaching and ambitious as this effort – will inevitably and invariably have the methodology of how the data was gathered, analyzed, weighted and averaged criticized as being incomplete, biased and otherwise inaccurate and unfair, but I think those kinds of criticisms are both unfair and miss the essential point of this marker and the value its component parts provide and the opportunities they present.

First, like it or not, the media embraces and gravitates towards simplicity. The health of the film business cannot, of course, be completely measured by the annual Box Office of the Top 100 Film releases, but in some ways it can. And, as importantly, that marker allows for consideration of a whole host of issues germane to both the status and the health of film production in America. The same is true with this Index for the arts. It is simply a starting point and a convenient benchmark that will hopefully get us some media attention on the deeper issues relative to our future as well as facilitate and encourage discussion within our field on important issues. As a tool, The Local Arts Index, an offshoot of this national model, will, I think be very helpful to local planners and arts groups, and will provide us a common standard for measurement and evaluation that we have heretofore lacked.

Second, while the 76 separate indicators are subject to criticism by virtue of what is included and what isn’t, as well as how the data for each indicator was collected, weighted and compared to other data within each category, such criticism largely begs the question of the value of the data collected, weighted and compared – which I think is enormous. While I am not an academically trained statistician or experienced in data analysis, the framework for this index seems comprehensive and relatively equitable to me. It will provide us with a wealth of centralized data heretofore unavailable to us, and promote the dialogue Americans for the Arts hopes it will. Moreover, I am assuming that like other indices this one will, over time, morph as more sophisticated techniques are available and applied, and a wider range of considerations is developed in the composition of the indicators and the analysis of the data. In short, data collection is always a work in progress.

It seems to me that the value of this Index is precisely that the data leads to a number of inescapable conclusions (some of which may finally lead to a consensus of opinion across different strata within our ranks as to how to proceed), as well as a myriad of other conclusions on which there will legitimately be disagreement and debate – which we will need to consider and address. I have had access to this data for a month now, and I am only beginning to get into it. There is a lot here to consider and much for our sector to digest and I anticipate it will indeed help to jumpstart local and national discussion.

Rather than try to delve too deeply into the specific data findings of the Report, I urge all of you to access it for yourself . Read the summary conclusions, review the 76 indicators and consider all of the questions the Report puts forward as issues we need to consider given this data. To be sure, there are many, many more questions than those in this Report and that, I think, is precisely the point.


Have a great week.

Don’t Quit


Barry

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