The National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which I wrote about favorably here in February, is out with its first survey of the health of the “arts industry,” and I must say I am a tad disappointed. For two reasons.
But first, here are the results: After surveying arts leaders in all disciplines, the study found that they in general have a positive outlook for the future of their organizations in areas like attendance, earned revenue, donor support, program quality and so on. For example, although only 30.2 percent of the participants said that “overall conditions for the cultural sector” in their local market were better (including slightly better) today than they were a year ago, 48.3% expect them to be better in the coming year. While 44% percent said attendance was better or slightly this year, versus last, 55.7 % expect it to improve in the coming year. That pattern continues, as you will see if you look at the results.
You can probably guess the first disappointment — this sounds a lot like wishful thinking to me. This questions are about sentiment, and there’s no evidence to back them up. Too, we don’t know if these leaders have a good forecasting sensibility and track record, because this is the first survey. Call me a skeptic on these results.
Secondly, the participants themselves are disappointing, from my point of view. The biggest number came from theater groups (23%), while only 7% came from “visual arts organizations.” That doesn’t sound representative to me. Moreover, 47% of participants came from groups with a budget of less than $250,000. While there are more small groups around the country than large ones, I wish the survey included more large ones. $3 million or more is the largest budget category — that’s just not big enough.
I still hope that this Center lives up to my expectations. This is just a start, and it does say it will continue to probe. But I wonder if coming out with something so flimsy to start was the right move, reputationally.