SMU plans clearinghouse for arts research

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Southern Methodist University is coming to the aid of arts groups in North Texas and across the nation with a new research center designed to help administrators better manage their budgets and operations.

On Tuesday, SMU announced that the Meadows School of the Arts and the Cox School of Business are establishing the National Center for Arts Research, which will contain the largest database of arts research ever assembled. Arts organizations can use it for free.

The center was established because most arts organizations are small and underfunded and "must have a more research-driven understanding of their markets and industry trends in order to more deeply engage existing audiences and reach new ones," said José Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts.

The center is gathering information from a variety of sources -- the Cultural Data Project, formerly part of the Pew Charitable Trusts; the Theatre Communications Group; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Census Bureau; and the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Through their contributions, the center proposes to become the nation's leading source of expertise on arts patronage and how it can be affected by managerial decisions and fiscal trends.

"For the past 10 to 20 years, the decline in participation in arts across the country, the shifts in philanthropy and money allocated to the arts has taken a toll on the bottom line," said Zannie Voss, chairwoman and professor of arts management and arts entrepreneurship in the Meadows and Cox schools, who will serve as the center's director.

The center will release a yearly "State of the Arts" report that will be accessible at www.smu. edu/artsresearch, which is still being fine-tuned.

In fall 2014, the center expects to see the completion of an interactive dashboard that is being built by IBM. The dashboard will allow companies to compare their business models with those of similar organizations to see how they stack up on various performance measures, including community engagement, earned and contributed revenue, and balance sheet health.

The site will have a place for discussing best practices, as well as a resource library with helpful tools and templates.

"We anticipate this will be most useful for organizations with operating budgets of less than $100,000 a year, such as theater companies and small dance companies," Voss said.

She said many small cultural organizations want to know how to better manage their funding and who is buying tickets. It can help them strike the right balance between ticket sales and production costs and decide how many shows to produce and for what capacity.

Rebecca Allard, managing director of Amphibian Productions in Fort Worth, said the information will be "invaluable" to a smaller theater company.

"Any piece of information of who might be interested in our productions and how we are spending our money is tremendously helpful," she said.

Gaile Robinson is the Star-Telegram's art and design critic. 817-390-7113

Twitter: @gailerobinson

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