City Approaches Data-Driven Arts Funding with New Analytics Tools

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Children circle around a table while crafting sugar skulls. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Children craft sugar skulls at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, an arts organization that receives City funding.

San Antonio nonprofit arts organizations that receive City funding have been tasked with using a data analysis tool to help measure their overall effectiveness in marketing, staffing, fundraising, and other aspects of management.

By Sept. 30, just before the City's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, each of 47 arts agencies will have submitted data on their operations and use of public funding, said Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the Department of Arts and Culture.

Using SMU DataArts, a set of tools developed by the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) to demonstrate the economic impact of the arts sector, nonprofit arts agencies will be able to measure organizational effectiveness for themselves and the public, Racca-Sittre said.

Implementation of the SMU DataArts tools is new this year, with the requirement to file data included in arts agency funding applications. Racca-Sittre presented information on the use of data analysis to City Council members last week during a budget information session.

When asked by Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) whether arts agencies would be held accountable for their use of City funding, Racca-Sittre responded that the data collection effort is a way to ensure that public money is being spent as intended, and that organizations could demonstrate effectiveness in marketing and audience engagement.

Though numbers-based, SMU DataArts analysis includes a qualitative assessment tool as well, Racca-Sittre said. The KIPI, or Key Intangible Performance Indicator tool, provides insight for organizations on factors such as “People per Offering,” “Relational Revenue,” “Total Engagement” (including “virtual attendance”), and pragmatic factors like donor contributions versus governmental support, and operating surplus before and after depreciation.

City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture Interim Director Debbie Racca-Sittre gives the attendees an update on the current standings of the establishment. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

City of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture Director Debbie Racca-Sittre addresses members of the arts community during a public meeting

“They are attempting to measure those intangibles,” like quality of performances, Racca-Sittre explained, through measurables such as repeat attendance, attendee recommendations to friends, and whether a person would make an on-the-spot donation if asked after a performance. “That type of marketing works,” she said.

Overall, the goal of implementing data analysis is to promote sustainability and support a healthy arts community, Racca-Sittre said.

The DataArts analysis originated in 2004 in Philadelphia to counter a perception in city government that public funding to arts groups should be cut entirely, Racca-Sittre explained. After compiling data on the economic impact of local arts and “return on investment” for the municipal government, the council voted to double funding rather than eliminate it, she said.

This cautionary tale served as one impetus for the local arts department to implement data analysis for groups receiving City funding. San Antonio's arts organizations need to be able to tell their success stories, too, Racca-Sittre said, not only for City Council to invest in the arts, but for agencies to attract other funders.

Though the level of public support for arts funding is currently healthy, with a 9 percent increase in Hotel Occupancy Tax funding, politics can change, Racca-Sittre said. Creating clear accountability and economic impact data will make the consistent case to Council members for continued funding, she added.

Agencies will continue to compile and submit data on a quarterly basis, as part of the Cul-Tú-Art five-year strategic plan newly implemented for the current funding cycle.

An additional benefit from the analysis accrues to the groups themselves, Racca-Sittre said.

“This is a capacity-building exercise for them, too, to know where they stand,” in comparison to other local and national groups. Arts organizations can also use the data to “analyze their health and their trends and to look at where they need to improve,” she said.

SMU DataArts analysis tools are free to use, with online training available. The Department of Arts and Culture also offers technical assistance, with certified financial planning volunteers and a staff consultant dedicated to helping agencies file their data. An ongoing technical assistance grant in the amount of $2,500 is also available to qualified agencies throughout each year, which could be used to compile and file data.

In an informational video on its website, NCAR states that the survival of arts organizations is crucial, and that its mission is to foster their growth and sustainability.

“We gather, sort, and make sense of millions of pieces of data so [arts organizations] can learn how to thrive,” the video narration reads.

NCAR also measures the “arts vibrancy” of cities throughout the United States. San Antonio did not make its list of Top 20 Arts-Vibrant Large Communities for 2018.

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