NCAR Helps Cultural Organizations Measure Their Health
by Kate Levin
The “Edition 3” report just released by The National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) is a powerful addition to the set of comparative metrics available to help organizations understand and manage their operations.
This project has several particularly interesting features.
First – data geeks rejoice – it updates information from 2010. The influx of more current numbers is particularly valuable given how tough it has been to understand overall trends based on data generated in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic downturn. And NCAR will be collecting and analyzing new data every four months. This commitment to a continually refreshed resource will help address past frustrations over the lag time between data analysis and “now.” Especially since it can be enough of a challenge to identify meaningful organizational trends without the additional complexity of numbers that reflect an outdated form of market volatility (as opposed to this year’s version…).
Second, the analysis offers an in-depth examination of seven performance indices to track the strength of the sector. These include several that offer insights into audience behavior, including “program revenue per attendee,” “in-person community engagement” and “virtual community engagement.” All the indices attach closely to actionable managerial choices, so they should be genuinely useful to arts leaders.
Third, the results are organized on the NCAR website in a dashboard format – so information can be extracted and customized with relative ease. And it’s also worth noting that the underlying dataset is wide-ranging, including nearly 5,000 cultural organizations across a variety of sizes and disciplines from around the U.S. So the information should be relevant to a broad part of the non-profit arts sector.
Arts administrators need to prioritize the health of their individual organizations. But in an increasingly competitive environment, taking the time to understand the context in which each organization operates can be extremely helpful. Being able to pull information from this latest NCAR resource, based on significant comparative data, is good news for the vitality of the cultural community.
Of course, the numbers won’t dictate a “right answer” for an organization, because as differentiated as the missions, approaches and programming of cultural organizations are, creative industries don’t function successfully in a one-size-fits-all vacuum. But by expanding access to thoughtful, timely analytics, NCAR provides another meaningful tool for leaders looking to spark useful questions, define risk, and drive informed decision-making.
For more information about NCAR and to stay updated on the latest arts and culture research findings, please visit smu.edu/artsresearch.
Kate D. Levin
Inaugural Nasher Haemisegger Fellow
National Center for Arts Research