I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about metrics and measurement in the arts — the various ways we look for evidence that we’re making progress on mission, or making a difference in some area of our community. And for many I speak with, metrics are a matter of concern and frustration: Why must I shift my focus from the work to measure the impact of the work? Or, why must I bend my artistic vision to achieve some external measure?
My response is becoming increasingly consistent: You DON’T have to do those things…as long as you stop asking for other people’s money.
As soon as you take someone else’s dollar — whether a donor or a foundation or a ticket buyer or a taxpayer (via a public agency) — you are suddenly subject to their metrics of success…particularly if you want ANOTHER dollar after the one you just received.
Of course, their metrics might include joy and creation and escape and wonder. Or their metrics might include employment statistics, property values, public education, and success of surrounding retail. Your job as a cultural leader is to understand the various expectations that came with the money or time or attention, and to show you’re meeting those expectations (while still staying true to your artistic or community mission).
You may not like that job. But you accepted that job when you accepted that dollar.
I’m constantly attempting to define the boundaries of the industry I study and serve. The ‘nonprofit arts’ isn’t quite right, as it’s too narrow. Nor is the ‘arts and culture industries’ sufficient, as it seems too broad. My current working definition is this:
Artistic enterprises that require more than one person to accomplish, that claim human expression as a primary purpose, and that cannot recapture their complete costs from the audience they seek to serve.
Those enterprises REQUIRE other people’s money. And other people’s money comes bundled with other people’s metrics.