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Use of arts participation data

Measuring Cultural Engagement amid Confounding Variables

August 20, 201420 August 2014

Special Issue: Arts participation and engagement

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Who uses arts participation data? Are the data used by arts organizations to improve their connections to audiences? Are the data connected to arts policy?

One speaker argued that many artists and arts administrators have a hunger to better understand the world in which they work, especially the trends shaping demand for the arts. Some noted that involving arts administrators in survey design might improve their use of surveys.

Data dissemination, literacy, and “translation” are key. A better understanding of how participation data could be used to improve arts administration practices might help improve research design and analysis. Participants were told that the U.K.’s Arts Data Impact Project has embedded a “Data Scientist-In-Residence for the Arts” within large cultural institutions in order to ensure better data dissemination and usage. In short, symposium participants noted that there is a need to connect the conceptualization and analysis of surveys with the environment in which artists make work.

Motivations (or lack thereof) are an important component of arts participation research. There is a desire among researchers and arts administrators to better understand why people attend the arts and create works. One participant noted that individuals are constantly seeking to build personhood: the arts and creativity are fundamental in understanding “Who am I?” Some participants argued that qualitative research is better suited than quantitative studies to focus on questions of why people participate.

That being said, there is also a need to distinguish between marketing applications of data and independent analysis (i.e., without a marketing “spin”). Both types of analysis are important.

Data-driven decision making is important. However, one speaker made the analogy that collecting data is like looking in a car’s rear view mirror: “drivers who only do that are doomed to have short journeys”. In some jurisdictions, participants indicated that there appears to be politically-motivated questioning of the value of data and research.

Changing realities and changing survey questions may create tensions within the arts community, if some areas of the arts are favoured over others.

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