Joe and I recently attended a conference for organizations similar to C4 Atlanta. The conference was held in Austin, TX, and arts service organizations (ASO’s) from all over North America came together to support each other, share best practices and to catch up with friends.
A little bit of back story: C4 Atlanta recently entered a partnership with TRG Arts, to offer the Atlanta region a cooperative, web-based patron database–Arts & Culture Census. The purpose of the Arts & Culture Census is to simplify mailing list exchanges; share list hygiene expenses; identify a targeted, qualified and focused group of arts consumers; and examine consumer behavior through comparative market analysis. RESEARCH!!
While in Austin, we heard some great stories about how similar partnerships in other cities are being used to leverage policy changes and to enhance arts advocacy efforts. Here’s more on what we heard…
In Pennsylvania, the State Legislature introduced a bill to enact a new sales tax on arts and culture. Elected officials believed that arts consumers were largely white and “super-rich.” Using data from their community database, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance demonstrated that the typical arts consumer is less affluent and more diverse than elected officials assumed. Furthermore, the Cultural Alliance was able to cross-reference the data with voter registration information. They found that arts consumers vote more often than the general population. The result: Elected officials were re-educated and the tax on arts and culture failed.
In Los Angeles, the LA Stage Alliance used its community database to create maps that showed where the highest concentrations of arts patrons lived in the region. One suburban city stood out. Despite a high concentration of arts patrons, this city had no arts or culture institutions of any significance within its borders. Using the maps, the Alliance made its case to the city. There were a lot of people who lived in this quiet suburb, but they spent their money in other cities throughout the region to attend shows and galleries. With so little support for the arts, this city was foregoing tax revenue and depriving its citizens of the arts and culture they demanded. The result: The city agreed to build and support a new center for arts and culture in its downtown area.
In Philadelphia, a major arts institution had anecdotal evidence that more patrons would attend concerts if they could get back home using the region’s commuter rail service, SEPTA. Commuter rail hours at that time were targeted for use by commuters who kept “regular business hours.” Trains stopped before arts and culture activities were finished. When the Greater Philadelphia Culture Alliance approached SEPTA to extend hours of operation, SEPTA responded with a request for hard data. The Alliance, using its community database, had hard data: how many arts institutions and patrons were located near transit stations. The numbers were significant enough to convince SEPTA to add two commuter trains in the evening. The result: Attendance at the arts and culture institutions went up measurably. The punchline: The additional SEPTA ridership was enough to cover the cost of the additional service.
Pretty cool, huh? We think so. If you are a member of an arts organization in the Atlanta metro-area, please ask us how your company can be apart of the Atlanta Arts & Culture Census.
We need to be consumed by our appetite for data – we should want to know as much as we can about trends, audience behavior, and general societal changes. While we don’t want to “commodify” our audiences, we do need to create relationships and not transactions and to do this in a smart way we need information and real facts, not sentimentality and supposition. – NAS President and CEO Russell Willis Taylor