08/05/2011 - When arts patrons in Michigan heard that the governor’s office there was preparing a new index of financial information about the state on which budget decisions could be made, they wanted to ensure they could contribute to it. The problem was they had no hard data to show the economic and social impact of the arts.
But they soon will. Last year, arts supporters and advocates in Michigan partnered with the Cultural Data Project, operated by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and have begun to gather statistics about the state’s cultural organizations, from ticket sales to number of employees. “We know the arts are very valuable,” said Melonie Colaianne, president of the Masco Corporation Foundation, the lead funder for the Michigan expansion. “We can’t just say those words, though. We have to be able to back that up. This will allow us to do that.”
The Cultural Data Project was launched in 2004 in Pennsylvania to help arts organizations track their programs, operations and finances in a standardized way. The project also provides tools that can help organizations improve their financial management, enable funders to better evaluate them and assist researchers in showing the impact of arts and culture in a community. It has now spread to 10 states, with Vermont and Washington, DC, expected to begin efforts later this year.
The project seeks to be in 22 states by 2014, which would lead to collection of information on 70 percent of the country’s cultural organizations that have sought public and private support. “The data is clearer than it’s ever been and more useful to us,” said Brian Rogers, deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, who has worked on the project since its inception. “What is beginning to develop is a national report on information about the arts and culture that has never existed before.” For more on the project, go to www.culturaldata.org.