Arts and Cultural Organizations Don't Exist in a Vacuum: Key Takeaways from The Anchor Project

Dec, 19 2018 / In /
anchor project

Arts and cultural organizations do not exist in a vacuum, they exist as part of the fabric of their communities.

SMU DataArts recognizes this and regularly publishes research findings that emerge from its study of the arts and culture ecosystem. This network features a complex and interdependent set of relationships among individual artists, arts organizations, their communities and audiences, and the private and public funding that influences the production and consumption of arts and culture. We attempt to model all of these different factors in order to understand what drives the performance of individual arts organizations, as well as the interactions among arts and cultural organizations within communities.

Karen Brooks Hopkins' The Anchor Project shares important findings that emerged from her work as Inaugural Senior Fellow-in-Residence at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which provided support and guidance to her and her colleagues, Steven Wolff and Bruno Carvalho, for this project. Since we have the great honor of having Ms. Brooks Hopkins serve as Nasher Haemisegger Fellow with SMU DataArts, we asked permission to disseminate this project’s findings, especially given how closely they align with our interest in understanding the relationships among different elements of the arts and culture ecosystem.

This work probes the meaning of anchor institutions and shows that they take a variety of shapes and forms. Any organization can fully embrace the role of anchor and emerge as a catalyzing force for and with its community. At the same time, it is important to note that a diversity of organizations in a community’s arts and culture ecosystem provide value in different ways. This report underscores the notion that successful partnerships arise when institutions recognize their interdependence, are sensitive to power dynamics, and understand the critical importance of authentic, mutually beneficial collaboration.

Zannie Voss, Director, SMU DataArts

Download the Full White Paper |

Key Take-Aways

Here are some key lessons learned after this three-year process:

  1. Community Impact supersedes economic impact. As we consider all kinds of data, the special facts pertaining to both history and the daily obstacles citizens contend with in their own communities must be considered as we create a business model and program strategy. We examined data on segregation patterns and urban history, social and cultural characteristics, as well as demographic and socio-economic data.
  2. Our field has evolved from stand-alone individual organizations to multi-disciplinary arts centers and cultural districts. The next phase might entail the formation of organically connected partner networks. A successful future is one where we join forces with partners of all kinds and scales, including neighborhood and cross- sector partners, to make a cultural statement that is deep and speaks in a loud and powerful voice.
  3. The key to success in partnerships is human resources, ranging from bandwidth (hours of availability and raw skills), to potential board member exchanges, to existing social capital flowing from organizational affiliations. If this learning is embraced by the sector, the value of a partnership or coalition may no longer be described through purely financial metrics (though they are essential to the success of any venture) but also with time spent and individuals impacted.