We need more arts data skills

Brea Heidelberg

Guest post by Brea M. Heidelberg, PhD

In the field of arts management we receive a fair amount of training in seeing things with either a shroud of doom and gloom OR with rose colored glasses. Either NO ONE is engaging with the traditional arts or $1 dollar spent on the arts results in $156,023,967.00 in money put into thecommunity (special shout-out to problematic multipliers).

If we (collectively) had the skills to collect and analyze data, we would be much less likely to fall prey to either extreme.

We are also our biggest critics in the field. When someone comes along that does have the skills to collect and analyze data that will provide answers to some of the field’s or even our organization’s pressing questions we, again, often see two extremes: they are vilified or their work is treated as gospel. Looking more critically at who we choose to vilify and whose work we glom onto would require an additional blog post. TL:DR – we have much more respect for researchers that don’t necessarily identify with, or have a background in the arts/arts management.

What we do have is ample training in telling stories. . .but what kind of stories? Are we capable of converting folks, or do we simply preach to the choir? Translating data into insights is different than proselytizing – even when engaging in advocacy. We are great at training people to be arts fundamentalists, but not so much on training discerning arts advocates who can strategically navigate the world of data analysis and advocacy argument construction.

But we can do better.

Academic programs are poised to create arts managers that are excited by data, and some of them already do. This is one of the many spaces where the field and the tower need to come together. If the field recognizes and respects those trained to gather, analyze, and translate data (both qualitative AND quantitative) in OUR field, then more academic programs will offer and perhaps even (gasp) require this type of coursework in their programs. Demand drives supply here folks.

Skills in arts management research, ask for more.


Brea M. Heidelberg is an arts management educator, consultant, and researcher focusing on the intersection of the arts and other fields of study. She sees arts administrators as intellectual translators and works to instill a respect for both theory and practice in her students and clients. She is a board member of the Association of Arts Administration Educators and currently serves as Co-Chair of Americans for the Arts’ Emerging Leaders Council. She is also on the editorial board of the American Journal of Arts Management. 

Dr. Heidelberg earned her PhD in Arts Administration, Education and Policy from The Ohio State University and her second Master’s in Human Resource Development from Villanova University. Her research interests include diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the arts management ecosystem, professional development issues facing arts administrators, and arts policy.