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The Knowledge-Centric Arts Organization

A Critical Role for Grantmakers

September 23, 201523 September 2015

Arts statistics and management

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Based on a literature review, exploratory interviews with arts organization leaders, a review of grantmakers’ practices, and the author’s experience, this article argues that “arts organizations must become knowledge-centric, by using knowledge to advance their missions and goals, gathering and leveraging disparate data and information, and creating a culture where knowledge is a core value”.

The author argues that “many organizations are not able to gather, collect, or report on even the fundamental data needed to inform their decision making.” Barriers in this area “include a lack of internal capacity, leadership that does not embrace the use of technology and metrics, and a compartmentalized staffing structure that inhibits sharing and collaboration”.

Best practices in becoming a more knowledge-centric arts organization include “(1) taking an incremental, data-driven approach [to gather both internal and external data]; (2) beginning to leverage ‘Big Data’’ [from public agencies, social media, GIS-mapping tools, and other sources]; and (3) building knowledge by building capacity” related to systems and tools, resources and funding, as well as governance and leadership.

Grantmakers, which “have a symbiotic relationship with arts organizations …, must adapt their approaches and strategies to align with the need to build knowledge-centric arts organizations”. The author’s advice for grantmakers includes:

  • “Investing in solid business models, not organizational structures”.
  • Investing in “knowledge capital”, which is funding toward an organization’s ability to become more knowledge-centric.
  • Supporting sensible organizational scaling, whether that is upward or downward.
  • Accepting risk and failure.
  • Recognizing that technology is not the entire solution.
  • Supporting organizations’ efforts to engage personnel with critical analytical skills.
  • Collaborating and cooperating with other funders to help support knowledge-centric practices in organizations.

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