Younger People Drive Attendance at Cultural Events, Says SMU's New NCAR Report

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We like to believe NCAR's office looks like this.
So, what happens when the SMU Meadows School of the Arts and the SMU Cox School of Business get together?

No, it's not a Dharma and Greg re-hash romcom -- although that would be delightful.

It's NCAR, the National Center for Arts Research, the non-profit arts community's new best friend.

A home for data-crunching, NCAR started last year as passion project by Dr. Zannie Voss and Dr. Glenn Voss, two already very busy SMU professors, in collaboration with the Cultural Data Project and some other large minds, sponsored by the university. They saw a need for statistical analysis in the Arts Sector, believing concrete information would assist the business management of a declining cultural industry. So, they started generating the stuff: taking raw data from arts organizations and national reports, then breaking it down.

They just released their fist set of conclusions and it seems they've found quite a lot. Like hey! It's US -- the younger arts supporters -- that really drive attendance. And that those grander groups (think: opera) tend to acquire deficits while spending the most on artistic and program personnel compensation.

In addition to this data mountain, NCAR will launch a dashboard in 2014, created in part with IBM (Sound familiar?), which will be accessible to arts organizations nationwide. Meaning the Oklahoma Museum of Art will be able to plug its own variables in to see how it measures up against other similar-sized art spaces, across the country. Then, it can expand or contract based on those catered findings.

I spoke with Dr. Zannie Voss when the program was first announced, asking why they felt it was important to harvest all of this data and send it through the cider press. Here's what she said:

My research partner Glenn and I, we were just looking at some of the disturbing trends over the last five years and 10 years -- with the declines in subscriptions, increases in the growth of expenses, in operating income. Couple that with others --- NEA found double-digit decline in arts participation in just about every arts discipline. In 2002 to 2008 there were declines in per-capita spending on the arts and share of philanthropy.

So it was really looking at it as "Hey, we've got some really talented arts leaders out there we just need more information. We need to understand what's driving declines and what our intuitions tell us."

Here's what they found out:

NCAR 2013 Report - Highlights
A sampling of highlights from the study:
Arts and cultural organizations earned an average of $22.26 per person who participated in the organization's program offerings, with a wide spectrum when broken down by sector: from a low of $4.10 for community organizations to a high of $53.72 for opera companies, reflecting the differences in operating models.

The larger the organization, the higher the percentage of its operating revenue that goes to pay for artistic and program personnel compensation, and the greater the tendency to run a deficit.

The smaller the organization, the higher the level of expenses it covers with contributed revenue.

San Francisco had the highest arts and culture dollar activity per capita -- $895 -- followed by New York City and Washington, D.C., at roughly $610 each.

Organizations in the Los Angeles area have the highest levels of unrestricted contributed revenue covering total expenses, the highest program revenue per attendee, and spend more in marketing expenses to bring in each attendee than other clusters, while Chicago organizations spend the lowest amount to bring in every attendee, followed by New York.

Based on the averages for each index, NCAR researchers were able to identify some factors that drive performance, including:

Organizational age and size (total expenses) boost performance in every case.

More local, national, or world premieres all lead to higher attendance and higher levels of total engagement.

Organizations that target children (pre-K-12) tend to have a larger footprint, offering more programs on larger budgets and attracting more attendance and more total engagement.

Organizations that spend more on fundraising (including personnel) have higher contributed and total operating revenue, but also more offerings, more total engagement, and higher current assets.

Population has a positive effect on operating revenue, expenses, and total offerings, but a negative relationship with attendance and total engagement.

Households with annual income above $200,000 tend to provide more contributed revenue to local arts and cultural organizations and they drive up expenses, but they have no effect on either attendance or program revenue and they drive down total engagement.

Longer commute times in a community bring down performance on nearly every outcome.

Attendance is lower as median age in the market increases. It appears that attendance is driven more by those in the lower end of the 25-64 range.

Having more hotels in the market led to higher performance on nearly every measure.

More per capita operating revenue in an arts sector translates to higher performance on every measure for organizations in that sector. When there are more competitors per sector, contributions are spread thinner, budgets tend to be smaller, and each organization supplies fewer offerings. However, more competition does not lead to lower attendance or engagement.

Higher concentrations of larger corporations in the community boost marketing expenses, physical attendance, total expenses, and program salaries. There is a "big company" effect that impacts arts and culture.

The number of NEA and/or IMLS grants an organization receives has a positive effect on every performance outcome.

Although the performance drivers explain some level of variation in performance measures, there are intangibles, like managerial and artistic experience, that also affect performance. These Key Intangible Performance Indicators (KIPIs) can be measured only after taking into account an organization's sector, size, location, community characteristics, local cultural policy, etc., and creating a level playing field. There is still some random variation that can't be accounted for, but NCAR gets as close as possible to measuring how much of an impact KIPIs have on performance. The KIPIs are most valuable as a tool in examining an individual organization's performance on different outcomes relative to the rest of the field, all else being equal.


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