What an adventure! When Randy Cohen and I started putting the National Arts Index together in 2005, we had little sense of how expansive it would become. At first, we hoped to find about 25 or 30 national and annual measures of arts and culture activity that we could report on annually. We knew of a few national service organizations that kept what we thought were pretty good and robust measures of annual activity in their fields – think symphonies, opera, and theatre. We knew of periodical studies by the NEA and the Census Bureau, as well as some measures at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Urban Institute. When we got going, we thought we could cobble these together into a pretty good annual picture of arts and culture in the U.S. over time.
These turned out to be only a fraction of the data that we ultimately found, as you can see in the full Index report on this site. Our final report, with 76 indicators, really shows a more diverse and multi-faceted system of the arts in America, one that we knew was there, but had not been able to get our hands around. No surprise: there are so many dimensions to the arts system: people, groups, institutions, artistic disciplines, artistic genres, businesses, nonprofit, and government, products, services, experiences, jobs, volunteers, and so much more. Not only “no surprise,” but also “no problem”: we wanted the Index to be as inclusive as possible, so we were happy to find all of the different measures.
So, for most of the last few years, we’ve been out seeking indicators of all of these dimensions, adding them to our data set to keep it current, and learning from the data. But time moves along. Last August we had five years of data on all of our indicators, and decided we were ready to go public in the next phase of the project. Getting ready to publish is different from building a database, so we “called the question.” We froze the database in place, but left its structure intact for new indicators and (of course) additional years of data. We were keenly aware that there is much arts activity that escapes measurement (which is OK– it’s art, it’s not all meant to be measured!), but in late 2009, we wanted to put the report in your hands.
Now that the report is out, we’re back on the track of updating the indicators we have, and looking for more that meet our eight criteria (there’s a quick list of these standards in Chapter 2, a more detailed one in Chapter 8). There are some we really would like to find for our annual October update: participation in choral activity, dance, and visual arts; the global dimension of American arts and culture including share of exports; arts and culture in overall economic output; and the condition of many other individual industries within the arts and culture.
And that’s just our list. Do you know of others? If so, you can help. For as much time as we spent looking, it’s certain that we missed finding good data on these, or other measures of arts and culture activity that fit our criteria. We warmly welcome any ideas (the more specific the better!) that readers of this blog can provide. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Randy Cohen at email@example.com with your suggestions or post comments below.