National Center for For Arts Research

Vision Statement
To act as a catalyst for the transformation and sustainability of the national arts and cultural community

Nearly every nonprofit sector of the arts in America faces serious challenges. The National Endowment for the Arts’ 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts revealed double-digit declines in the percentage of Americans who attended the arts from 2002 to 2008, as well as increases in average audience age over the same period. Personal spending in arts and culture has fallen significantly over the past decade, resulting in a net loss of $45 billion for the sector. Donations to the sector have also declined over the past 20 years by about $8 billion.

The impact of these trends is clear:

  • From 2008 to 2010, over 40% of arts organizations failed to break even

  • Operating deficits require organizations to go into debt or dip into cash reserves and endowments

The National Center for Arts Research was formed to address these challenges. NCAR will explore and analyze the issues of decreasing arts patronage and the declining fiscal health of arts organizations with a goal of finding ways to improve both. We aim to be the leading provider of data-based insights that will enable arts and cultural leaders to overcome challenges and increase their impact.

We will do this by creating and analyzing the largest database of arts information ever collected, investigating important issues of arts management and patronage, and making our findings available to arts leaders, funders, policymakers, researchers and the general public.

We will focus on:

  • The shifting patterns of patronage that have such profound effects on the arts’ ability to thrive;

  • The U.S. arts sector’s financial health, its areas of success and of greatest need;

  • The most pressing challenges and greatest opportunities facing the arts;

  • Arts organizations’ ability to engage communities across the country; and

  • The similarities and differences about each of these issues across arts and cultural sectors and regions of the country.

In order to do this, we are leading a collaboration with several strategic, data and consulting partners. Together with these partners and statistics from the Census Bureau and the IRS, we will provide an in-depth assessment of the condition of the arts in the U.S.

The success of the center is also contingent upon the very people we are hoping to support: our colleagues in arts organizations across the country. Through shared insights, we hope to not only understand the trends in the industry, but provide examples of how the information can be useful. Here’s how existing data in certain cities has already made a difference:

  • A performing arts organization was able to negotiate lower rent by showing the building’s owner that its rent was higher than that of similar organizations. Another group was able to expand its staff by proving to funders that it was understaffed compared to similar organizations.

  • A state governor had proposed a 7% sales tax on arts tickets because “it was only going to target rich people.” The data proved that the average arts ticket purchaser in the state made less than $60,000 a year – gutting the governor’s position and killing the would-be tax.

  • Two small theater companies in the central part of a large city asked a data consultant to make a map of where the theaters’ patrons lived and compare it to a map of the city train system. The theaters then took the information to the board of the transit system and persuaded them to add two trains to the schedule – one that would arrive at the theater district in time for dinner before the show, and one that would arrive closer to show time – and to have a train scheduled to depart the district after the show. The transit system sold more train tickets, and the theater companies sold more tickets AND more subscriptions.

We invite you to learn more about NCAR on this site and to check back often for updates.

Source: National Arts Index, National Arts Policy Roundtable original data sourced from Bureau of Economic Analysis & National Center for Charitable Statistics