As arts advocates throughout the country prepare to converge on our nation’s capitol for Arts Advocacy Day, I began thinking of the conversations many will have with their members of Congress. Some will be fruitful while others will feel like they’re talking to a brick wall, but regardless of the situation we will certainly get our point across.
But that got me thinking. What is our point, how do we back it up and do they get it?
I believe that there are two key elements to making our case for increased and sustainable funding for the arts. We need to have a compelling story that is backed up with reliable and comprehensive data.
We have the stories down pat. We know how to talk about John Q Student who was saved by the arts or how Organization B and Artist X contributed to the revitalization of a community’s downtown development. We are great story tellers, but for the most part cannot back up our stories with data.
It’s a common theme that I’ve seen come out of many meetings, interviews and conversations over the past couple of years. Elected officials, and the public in general, understand what we are doing but they need the numbers to back it up. They want to know exactly how many jobs we create, how much money is contributed to the local and regional economy, etc. Until we are able to provide them with reliable data, they will hear what we’re saying/doing but will never “get it”.
While there are numerous economic impact calculators and studies conducted throughout the country, there has never been a uniform study that is 100% reliable and reputable for all states to utilize. For example, some states have entities that provide studies to a certain region of the state while another entity conducts a similar study on the other side of the state with different parameters. How are we to utilize the two studies when the data collected and the ways in which they calculate the data fluctuate?
One solution to this issue that I am familiar with is the Cultural Data Project (CDP) developed and operated by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The CDP helps arts and cultural organizations improve their financial management and services to their communities; enables researchers, advocates and policy makers to better tell the story of the sector’s assets, contributions and needs; and helps funders more effectively plan for and evaluate their individual and collective grant-making activities. The Pew Charitable Trusts oversees and operates the Cultural Data Project (CDP) nationally. The CDP is active in 7 states – PA, CA, MD, MA, NY, IL, OH and launches in MI on May 3 – with a goal of operating in 22 states by 2014
Full disclosure…the organization I work for will serve as the intermediary for the CDP in Michigan when it is rolled out at the beginning of May thanks to support from Michigan’s foundation leadership. Having said that, while I don’t know if the CDP is the silver bullet to comprehensive and reliable data nationwide I do know that it is something that needs to be experimented with and discussed at the national level.