Calipers for clouds
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
New online database will quantify arts
The banker wore a tutu and did flying entrechats to keep the vaults open. The accountant mastered blues guitar to save the firm.
Absurd stories — unless you run them in reverse. Several times a year, understaffed arts groups have to lay down their trumpets, chisels and scripts to work on spreadsheets, cost-revenue charts and other hoops their major funders put in front of them.
It’s a lopsided game, but high-powered help has arrived. The Cultural Data Project, or CDP, an on-line
Organizers hope the long-term project will change the game for beleaguered Michigan arts groups in two ways. First, when arts groups submit financial and other data via online forms, the CDP will help make the information readily digestible to the foundations and state agencies that fund the arts.
In coming months, CDP planners hope all the state’s major arts funders will plug into the system at the other end. If they do, the cumbersome and confusing grant-writing system will be drastically streamlined, if not superseded.
A second payoff is expected about a year from now. Once hundreds of state arts groups have joined the system, the research wizards of Pew will bake the data into steaming pie charts and other fiduciary flummeries that will quantify and dramatize the importance of the arts to Michigan’s economic and social health.
According to ArtServe Michigan Director of Special Projects Jennifer M. Hill, "Pew is operating the database and the help services to support accurate data going into the database. Pew then grants research licenses to qualified individuals and organizations to report on what the aggregate data reveal. Pew has chosen to not be the researcher for the information. The Michigan CDP Task Force will play an important role in reviewing those research licenses.")
In 2006, the CDP crunched the numbers in Pennsylvania, the first state to adopt the program. It turned out there were 19,000 arts and culture employees in that state’s southeast region — the second largest economic sector in the area. (And the lowest paid.)
The Pennsylvania report is full of eyeopeners. Most arts groups were caught skating on thin ice, with operating margins of 3 to 5 percent of income over expenses. More than 40 percent were running at a deficit. Every dollar spent on fundraising yielded about $9. For paid events, the median ticket price was $14, but the cost to produce the events had a median of $46.
Simon Perazza, a spokesman for ArtServe Michigan, hopes CDP will paint a similarly detailed picture of the state of the arts in Michigan. ArtServe joined with Pew, 10 other foundations, and several other arts groups to bring CDP to Michigan.
“Aside from Kalamazoo, which does a good job of keeping track of the arts community, the rest of the state is a big void, no real data,” Perazza said.
It takes a while to submit data for the first time, but the payoff can come quickly, according to Sarah Hoyt, development manager for SPACES, a Cleveland gal lery of avant-garde and contemporary art. (Pennsylvania, California, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and New York have the CDP up and running.)
Hoyt found herself in a jam only a week after sending her gallery’s financial data to Ohio’s CDP, when she applied to the William J. and Dorsey K. O’Neil Foundation for a $15,000 grant to revamp the gallery’s Web site. To her surprise, the foundation demanded an annual report.
“I have a stack of exhibit brochures,” she told them. “That won’t do,” came the answer.
Hoyt panicked. “We don’t make an annual report,” she said. “It takes a lot of resources to do that.”
Hoyt went to the CDP, clicked a button and her printer spat out a report worthy of ExxonMobil, with colorful graphs and pie charts. The gallery got the funding.
In Michigan, buzz over the program is growing fast.
Jennifer Hill, a special projects director at ArtServe Michigan, said there are 8,700 organizations registered in the multi-state system, up from 5,000 in January.
In the three weeks since the project launched in Michigan, 50 organizations have registered.
Donaldson said she will enter the Council’s
In Ohio, the comparison data goes live next month. The prospect made Hoyt giggle with anticipation.
Clearly, the theory behind CDP — knowledge is power — works on many levels.
“Stand up and be counted,” Hill said. “You’re going to get a lot back.”
Michigan Cultural Data Project