March 7, 2021—When it comes to planning for community engagement or audience development, having access to research and data are critical to making smart, relevant decisions. I firmly believe the arts administration field is quite fortunate to have the work of Zannie Giraud Voss, Ph.D. and her team at SMU DataArts, which offers insightful and analytic research focused on helping arts organizations identify the programmatic and financial areas where they can grow their results and impact.
SMU DataArts’s most recent study, which is titled “The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations, Part II: A Spotlight on Organizations of Color,” will be released March 9, 2021. During August and September of 2020, the researchers conducted interviews with the leaders of 11 performing arts organizations in the dance, music/orchestra, theater, performing arts center, and multidisciplinary performing arts sectors, as well as 10 leaders of community-based arts organizations (CBOs) in the folk arts, cultural and ethnic awareness, and general arts and culture sectors with a track record of high performance along seven financial and operating metrics in recent years.
The 21 participating organizations self-identified as primarily serving Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Arab American or Asian American communities through their mission-related work. Their annual budgets ranged from $146,000 to $15 million.
I had the privilege of reviewing the executive summary and facilitating a discussion with Dr. Voss at New York University, and I believe everyone engaged in the arts can learn a lot from this important study. I had the privilege of reviewing the executive summary and facilitating a discussion with Dr. Voss at New York University, and I believe everyone engaged in the arts can learn a lot from this important study.v The researchers looked at financial stability, capacity building and the importance of these organizations to the arts ecology of their communities. Its findings offer information that also can inform funders on how best to evaluate the performance of arts organizations and the metrics to assess success.
- The researchers sought to answer the following questions: What lessons can we learn about relevance and resilience from high-performing arts organizations that primarily serve communities of color? How do they establish and maintain deep connections with the communities they serve and that sustain them, and what are the distinctive challenges they encounter in doing so?
- The interviewed arts leaders recognize that there are multiple steps in the process that leads to success, and referred to it as a “slow, controlled burn.” The cornerstones of high performance appear to lie in the alchemy between community orientation and high-quality programs.
- Arts and cultural organizations exist for mission fulfillment, not financial sustainability. Yet, the long-term outcome of financial sustainability undergirds the ability to maximize mission success. It is of note that more than 80-percent of the arts leaders interviewed indicate that their organization is financially solid despite the COVID-19 crisis.
- According to the interviewed arts leaders, the formula for strategic vision lies in the organization’s answer to the question, “How will you have created value, and for whom?”
Thank you, Zannie, for your work, passion for the arts, and research, which greatly enhances our ability to do our work in the field.
You can request notification of the report’s release via this link, or visit the SMU DataArts website at this link after March 9th. I am so excited to share the results of this important research with you and hope you will do more than read it—you will share it and allow these findings to guide and shape your work as you move forward.
As always, I want to know what you think. Please post your comments below.