an ARTSJOURNAL weblog | ArtsJournal Home | AJ Blog Central

« December 2003 | Main | February 2004 »

January 4, 2004

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with GeorgeStephen Sondheim's 1984 musical (with a book by James Lapine) dug deep into the artistic process, and spanned a century between acts. In the first act, a fictionalized version of impressionist Georges Seurat is consumed so much by his artistic vision, that he destroys the connections with those around him. In act two, a completely fictitious great grandson, also an artist but now of laser light installations, is consumed so much by the political and business process of the art world, that he loses connection with his own artistic vision.

The musical annoyed some critics for its lack of a traditional plot, and its minimalist-inspired music. But it stands with Sweeney Todd as one of Sondheim's most powerful and profound works. Plus, it includes what could be the anthem of modern arts management, the conflicted and dizzying early number in act two: "Putting it Together."

So why is this Broadway musical relevant to the management of arts and culture? Because it explores a reality that we've only begun to discuss in our field: that the process of creating, supporting, promoting, marketing, and distributing creative works is, itself, the cause of the many challenges we face as managers. The disconnected audience, the detached artist, the obsession over funding, ticket sales, and building infrastructure all seem to eclipse the art itself. These are tidal forces, not subject to direct command and control, requiring a very different approach to management than we're used to.

see it on
(any purchase benefits the Bolz Center for Arts Administration library fund...not much, admittedly, but a bit)

Posted by ataylor at 3:26 PM

January 5, 2004

Self-delusion through surveys

An odd little survey reported by the BBC shows the disconnect between audience intention and audience action, as well as the sad state of surveying in decision-making. The study concludes that tons of people have intentions to attend more arts events in the coming year, but few have shown any effort to actually do so.

Here's the summary results from the survey of UK citizens:

About 90% of the 1,000 respondents said they would aim to see more theatre, opera and exhibitions in 2004....Only one in 10 went to the ballet or opera in 2003, despite research suggesting nearly 70% of UK citizens think they are 'cultured.'

There are so many opportunities to question the study and its conclusion, it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the most obvious: what people say in response to a survey and what they actually do are often completely disconnected. Just think about it, if I walked up to you and asked 'In 2004, do you plan to attend more ballet performances or less? More theater or less? More exhibitions or less?' how would you respond?

Assume that you perceive yourself to be a thoughtful, cultured individual (which apparently 70 percent of the responders believed). And assume I won't ask you to back it up by actually buying a ticket or making any monetary commitment to your answer.

It recalls the great line by policy researchers Becky Pettit and Paul DiMaggio in their review of public support of the arts in America (available here): 'To summarize briefly, we found that support for federal funding of the arts is a yard wide and an inch deep.' In other words, lots of people are happy to voice their support for arts and culture in federal funding, but few would actually be willing to allocate their own tax money to do so.

In response to the results, the director of the Artsworld TV channel that did the survey made the classic conceptual jump to suggest that the answer to that massive demand but limited action was television (recall my recent post suggesting if you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail):

'As a cultured nation it is clear that we are eager to experience the arts, yet for various reasons are unable to attend live performances.....For those who want to be cultured but simply don't have the time, opera on the box is now a real alternative to a box at the opera,' she said.

To me, a study suggesting that 9 in 10 want to buy more of a product, but only 1 in 10 actually buy it shows a fairly deep gulf between intent and action, and a fairly weak link between wanting more and actually buying more. Instead of pushing out to empty couches through the television set (we've seen so many try and fail), it might be more worthwhile to dig deeper into why these 90 percent attribute value to cultural experience, and what would make them put their energy where their good intentions are.

Thanks to Mark Nerenhausen for pointing me to the article. Thanks to anyone else out there that cares to comment.

Posted by ataylor at 12:30 AM

January 6, 2004

Do what you say, say what you mean

Friend and colleague (and PhD candidate in Marketing) Jennifer Wiggins adds some details to my rant yesterday about misunderstanding survey results. The article I cited and the sponsoring organization were excited to find that 90 percent of survey participants planned on attending more cultural events in 2004. What they missed was the real finding: that 90 percent of participants wanted to be perceived (and already perceived themselves) as cultured...not that they'd actually follow through. Says Jennifer:

The phenomenon of survey responses where intent and action don't match up is hugely common in consumer behavior research, and for that matter in any kind of decision-making research. Psychologists and consumer researchers have been trying to figure out for a long time why people don't do what they say they will do. A few of their findings may shed some light on the situations arts administrators face with this kind of data.

First, there is the social desirability element. When responding to self-report surveys, particularly surveys done in person or over the phone, respondents want to give the socially desirable response. Hence, we overestimate how much we exercise and underestimate how much we eat french fries. We also dramatically overestimate how often we go to 'high culture' events and underestimate how much time we spend sitting in front of the TV. It's socially desirable to be 'cultured,' and really, who would want to say no to the question, 'Do you consider yourself to be cultured?'

Second, she says, there's a common problem of asking broad questions (will you attend more cultural events in 2004?) and making specific conclusions (ballet attendance for the Anytown Ballet Company will rise). We'll get much more reliable results if we focus our questions as much as possible.

Finally, she wonders if our obsession with finding fresh, new audience members might be blinding us to the more obvious opportunity:

Maybe we shouldn't be spending so much time and effort trying to attract the people who say they will come but never do. The old adage that it's much cheaper to keep an existing customer than to attract a new one is very true, particularly when it's so difficult to figure out who is actually thinking about attending and just needs a little push, and who will really never attend but answers survey questions with the socially desirable response.

The issue here is not whether we should use surveys or not...of course we should. They are essential tools in our learning process as organizations and as managers. But we need to understand their flaws and quirks, like any other tool in the box. If anything, we should use them more, but in quick, informal ways (like having a set of single questions your box office staff asks each customer).

Keep the comments coming.

Posted by ataylor at 8:19 AM

January 7, 2004

Apple Computer enables a new generation of amateur

There is huge potential in Apple Computer's new product announcements at yesterday's Macworld Expo. Arts organizations should pay particular attention to the upgraded iLife software suite, which Steve Jobs called "the Microsoft Office for the rest of your life."

Why should you care about a software suite from a computer company with such a tiny market share? Because it marks the beginning of what could be the next generation of amateur arts. And because Apple has proven pretty good at launching trends that grow to all computer platforms.

A long while back, amateur arts were the engine of professional arts. Community choirs, home concerts, painting groups, sewing circles, and the like, connected non-professional enthusiasts with all forms of performance and handicraft. It was like the Little League and Pee Wee Football is to professional sports -- not generating a flow of professionals necessarily, but creating a generation of enthusiasts with direct experience of the game.

The professionalization of arts and culture over the past decades has crowded out or minimized such community efforts, contributing to the audience engagement issues we face today. (If you're a real technology wonk, there's a cool systems simulation of how this professional/amateur dynamic might work on-line...not for the faint of heart.)

So, what about iLife? It's a suite of five programs that enable anyone to create, curate, and present a full range of cultural products -- from photos, to videos, to DVDs, and now to self-produced music. Garage Band is the latest addition to the suite, containing a seriously powerful recording and production studio to make music. As with most innovations, all the pieces of this suite have been available for a while, but never so integrated, so user-focused, and so elegantly conceived for the everyday user.

These will be astounding tools for artists of all kind -- inexpensive (the whole package sells for $49), powerful, professional-grade, flexible. But beyond that, they enable a new generation of creators -- amateur artists who will grow a connection to aesthetics and expression not through outreach and education, but through doing it themselves. Their art will be family photo albums, wedding videos with pop song soundtracks, web sites, self-produced songs that only they hear. But they will be producing cultural work, regardless, and building a sensibility toward art and the artists who do this for a living.

Again, Apple alone can't manage that revolution, but it has already launched it. Watch for Microsoft and others to follow suit, and to build a toolkit to enable a new kind of arts participant. The thoughtful manager of arts and cultural organizations will be looking for ways to harness that new energy.

Posted by ataylor at 8:29 AM

January 8, 2004

A cash-laden update to the Nutcracker story

A story in yesterday's Boston Globe continued the saga of Boston Ballet's Nutcracker production. As faithful readers will recall, the Wang Center announced last November that they'd be bumping the Ballet's blockbuster to replace it with the touring Radio City Christmas Spectacular (here's my original entry on the subject, and a follow-up).

It seems the Boston production did record business this season, pulling in 139,620 people for a total take of $6.6 million. That's a 30 percent bump in attendance over last year, and the highest dollar volume on record for the company.

Apparently, all the hullabaloo over the Wang's decision, and the resulting media attention, spiked the interest and angst of Boston citizens. Despite the volume, the Wang Center is sticking to its decision, and the Boston Ballet is looking for another home for 2004.

Meanwhile in Denver, the animal rights group PETA made plans to demonstrate outside of Colorado Ballet's production of the holiday classic, hoping to educate young attendees about their mommy's fur coat. Here's a charming description of the flyer they planned to use:

The comic-book-style leaflet shows a woman stabbing a rabbit with a bloody knife. The caption reads: 'Ask your mommy how many animals she killed to make her fur coat.'

Colorado Ballet will also be competing with the touring Rockettes production in 2004. So I'm sure they were thrilled with the attention.

Posted by ataylor at 8:40 AM

January 9, 2004

On the road again...

I'm traveling today to attend the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York (here's a good overview of the conference in today's NY Times). Hoping to get more grist for the weblog mill, and eager to mix and mingle with alumni of the Arts Administration degree program I direct, and other old friends from conferences past.

If anyone sees me, be sure to flag me down (I look a lot like this goof).

Posted by ataylor at 12:18 AM

January 12, 2004

A refreshing dose of reality

Large professional conferences can usually drain the life out of you -- with the flourescent lighting and recirculated air serving as metaphors for the vague insights and recirculated ideas that comprise their official functions. But around the edges of these events lives the true inspiration (and the true energy) for cynics like me.

Such is the case for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference I'm still attending through the end of today -- a massive gathering of thousands of arts professionals who come to New York to proffer or book performing arts events for the coming seasons. As always, there are the awards, speeches, keynotes, workshops, and exhibit floors (and floors and floors). But I have also found a renewed sense of hope for arts administration from coming here...not from the official conference (which is fine and friendly and well-intentioned), but from the activity at the edges, in the hallways, in the lobby lounge, and in whispers at the back of each group presentation.

It's clear that we're all baffled with the complexity of this business, and the radical changes taking place in the forces that make it run (contributed funds, ticket sales, government support, available workforce, volunteers, educated and engaged constitutents, and so on). But the glory here is in the thousands of passionate people doing the work anyway. Even in the face of abject complexity and overwhelming odds, there are wonderful individuals across the United States that are learning their audience, honing their aesthetic senses, growing their communities through performing arts. Most inspiring are the many here from non-metropolitan cities, working with nothing at all but tenacity and faith.

I know it sounds forgive me. But I can't help thinking that if we could only tilt the management, funding, and aesthetic forces even slightly in their favor, these thousands would take off like a shot.

Posted by ataylor at 12:15 AM

January 13, 2004

What's in a name? Lots of problems, that's what

The Arts Presenters conference in New York, like so many other professional events in the arts over the past years, had a special focus on presenting 'world music'. Lots of sessions explored the state of world music, the particular challenges of programming it to American audiences, the visa issues, the lack of professional infrastructure in other lands to support the presenters' work. All great stuff in an effort to broaden the palette of performing arts available to communities across the country.

Yet behind all the interesting and well-intentioned discussions was an undercurrent of confusion: what, exactly, is world music, and does it help us to assign categories that cannot be defined?

Of course, most would answer that 'world music' is non-European music, or compositions, cultural expressions, and performances from cultures other than the traditional performing arts fare. It's music from the Middle East, China, Africa, Israel, Nepal, and so on. And we categorize it because it makes it easier to talk about it, program it, and present it to an audience -- we can have a 'world music' series and everyone will know what we mean.

The problem is, such categories seem to cause more problems than they solve -- both from a business and aesthetic perspective.

From the business side, it's another example of arts organizations defining their work in a way that's completely disconnected from their audience. Lots of studies have shown that arts audiences don't buy based on the music category or even the composer being performed. Instead, they buy a certain quality of experience that the program offers them (a quiet and reflective moment, a night out with someone they care for, a connection to collective experience). If anything specific, audiences seem to buy the artist rather than the category or genre (Yo-Yo Ma, John Mayer, Youssou N'Dour, The Chieftains, etc.).

Any marketing professional will tell you how far you get by defining products and services on your terms rather than your audiences' -- ie, not very far. So, at the very least, we should begin to think about how categories like 'world music' help our audiences connect (or not).

What makes matters worse, however, is that categories don't really serve an aesthetic function either. They don't tell us anything about the work, itself. And they lead to a whole series of odd exclusions that only confuse more (for example: Is music composed in Europe not part of world music? What about music composed in America and Canada, aren't we part of the world? What if it's composed by an immigrant? Does it include performance that integrally involves dance and movement? What if it's composed by a Western-European artist but has the flavor of another culture?). In short, categories don't even do what we think they do -- make it easier to discuss what we do.

Finally, a quote from John Dewey -- the patron saint of aesthetics -- on the subject of categorization. In Art as Experience, he suggested that even the broadest categories of art are limiting and dangerous, such as visual art, performing art, theater, dance, music. Says he:

An enumerative classification is convenient and for purposes of easy reference indispensable. But a cataloguing like painting, statuary, poetry, drama, dancing, landscape gardening, architecture, singing, musical instrumentation, etc., etc., makes no pretense to throwing any light on the intrinsic nature of things listed. It leaves that illumination to come from the only place it can come from -- individual works of art.

Clearly, we need categories as professionals to short-hand our conversations (all these ensembles have potential visa issues, all these performance styles are unfamiliar to our audiences' cultural experience, etc.). But extending the use of these functional categories to also define our programming, our marketing, and our business models, only limits our ability to do our work.

It's the art and the artist that connect, not their nationality or their historical era.

Posted by ataylor at 10:50 AM

January 15, 2004

Back to the amateurs

Apple Computer leader Steve Jobs had an odd statistic in his Macworld conference (see my weblog entry here) that I finally got around to tracking down. He quoted a study that said more than half of all households in the United States contained someone who currently played an instrument.

From my Google wanderings, I'm guessing his numbers came from the spring Gallup survey of 'American Attitudes Toward Music' (press release available here). Sure enough, the study of 1005 individuals 12 and older found that 'a record 54 percent of households, the highest figure since this study began in 1978, reported having at least one musical instrument player.'

Beyond the fact that the study is sponsored by a music merchandising association (NAMM, which used to be the National Association for Music Merchants, but now insists on the title International Music Products Association), and the feeling that it drifts into my 'all good news all the time' concerns, there's something in here worth noting.

If our collective mission is to connect communities with a diverse range of cultural experiences, then the many amateur musicians are essential allies in that effort. Whether they ever translate into ticket-buyers, amateur musicians are an important part of the cultural ecosystem. And there seem to be more of them out there than you'd expect.

Professional nonprofits would do well to foster and encourage this group.

In another interesting statistic (you can download the summary Powerpoint), the study found that 40 percent of those playing an instrument were initially motivated by their parents to do so, 28 percent became interested on their own, 17 percent were encouraged by someone else, and 15 percent were encouraged by a teacher. Interesting that 72 percent began their journey through the encouragement of someone else. So, go encourage.

On the lighter side, the report also contains one of the oddest charts I've seen in a while. More on odd graphic representations of data in a future post. Don't get me started.

Posted by ataylor at 8:20 AM

January 16, 2004

Really, really, really knowing your audience

A great segment on NPR last night explored the phenomenon of Mormon cinema, an extremely targeted film genre that seeks to serve an extremely targeted audience. Says Dave Hunter, co-founder of Hailstorm Entertainment:

We know where every single Mormon on the face of the planet lives. We have picked our audience and we are catering directly to them. We know what they like. And we'll hit them head on.

It turns out there are 11 million Mormons in the world -- all tracked by the mother church -- providing sufficient density in various communities around the United States to support multiplex showings of this niche entertainment.

A bit odd, perhaps, but an interesting case in point about the benefits of serving a homogeneous marketplace. Unfortunately, our pesky mission statement, and the goal to reach a diverse audience, makes life for nonprofit cultural organizations a bit more complicated.

Posted by ataylor at 7:49 AM

January 19, 2004

Storytelling for Arts Administrators

A successful manager of an arts and cultural organization has to be a good storyteller. Not fiction, mind you (leave that to the Enron executives), but compelling stories of mission, action, money, and goals. They tell these stories to donors, to board members, to staff, to artists, to audiences. And they tell them in several different languages -- the most common being spoken word, written word, spreadsheet, chart, and graph.

I meet many managers who are exceptional storytellers by spoken or written word -- probably because those abilities have brought them to where they are. I meet fewer that have the same facility with spreadsheets, charts, and graphs.

Those hoping to balance out their skills might do well to look to Edward Tufte, the annointed king of the country's data visualizers (did you know they had a king?). Tufte is a professor at Yale, and author of the gold standard in data visualization (The Visual Display of Quantitative THAT sounds like good beach reading, I hear you say).

Tufte is a master of storytelling through graphs, charts, and infopictures...and a wonderful lampooner of lame attempts to do so (he's also behind the recent journalistic flurry about how Microsoft's Powerpoint is Evil).

For those with less time on their hands, here's an article on Tufte and his work from Fortune, and another from Metropolis Enterprise.

Posted by ataylor at 9:03 AM

January 20, 2004

The Elusive Goal: a self sustaining, non-profit

The business section of the Seattle Post-Inteligencer carries this corporate intervention story with a twist -- the twist being that the corporation in question is a nonprofit museum. Since it opened, the Experience Music Project in Seattle has been in search of a focused mission, and scrambling for a more stable mix of revenue against seemingly lavish expenses. A pet project of Microsoft founder Paul Allen, the museum was running on 70 percent contributed income in 2002 (trimmed back to 50 percent last year).

Stepping in to make the museum more lean and mean is corporate 'turnaround expert' Paul Abramowitz, fresh from wrestling a plant wholesaler and e-commerce company from its bankruptcy.

The hard news of the story is that Abramowitz cut 37 percent of the museum's staff (129 people), after 46 people were cut last year and 124 were laid off in 2002. Somehow, even after losing 299 staff members in the past two years, however, the museum will still have a crew of 214. The better news is that those being let go are getting severance, and seem to be satisfied with their treatment.

There's an odd feeling to the story, which shows that a lot of folks are confused about how nonprofit cultural organizations work. Says EMP spokeswoman Paige Prill:

'We have been continuing to look at all aspects of our business to get our operating budget in line with our projected revenues to become a self sustaining, non-profit organization....This is part of this process and we have been on this path for the past three years.'

That phrase, 'a self sustaining, non-profit organization,' has been popping up in a lot of conversations I've heard lately, which raises a question: what exactly is a self-sustaining non-profit? Often, buried within the phrase is the unspoken assumption that earned revenue can somehow, someday meet expenses. That ticket income can match the cost of operations.

And yet, the entire purpose of cultural nonprofit organizations is to sustain, preserve, present, and explore forms of cultural expression that cannot be supported solely by the commercial marketplace. Instead, they rely on multiple markets, including individual donors, corporate funders, foundations, and government agencies. Organizations that can gather enough income from any or all of these sources (earned included) to cover annual operating expenses are, by my definition anyway, self-sustaining.

The problems of the Experience Music Project run deeper than expenses and revenues. These are symptoms of an organization that was a glorious dream of a single donor, and missed a few steps in connecting to a broader base of constituents, and determining its fundamental purpose. Given that EMP sits in a fabulously funky facility, and has an edgy content category (rock and roll), let's hope they spend some time on those things with the staff they have left.

Posted by ataylor at 12:10 AM

January 22, 2004

Some pointers to keep you busy...

I'm on the road AGAIN, this time for a board meeting of the Association of Arts Administration Educators, the professional association of degree programs like the one I direct at UW-Madison (note the shameless link to my place of theory at work).

As such, I only have time to point you somewhere else today, that is to a few great threads at my neighbor blogger Greg Sandow's site. Check out his tirade against Joe Volpe at the Met, and the beginnings of his deconstruction of the 'crisis in classical music'.

Browse those, and then go make a sizable donation to your local arts organization...or buy a Venti Mocha Latte, whichever you think is best.

Posted by ataylor at 8:29 AM

January 26, 2004

If they were only smarter, they'd LOVE us

Bernard Holland had a good piece in the Sunday New York Times about arts education. In it, he tugs apart the assumed connection between arts education and arts appreciation:

An implicit contract has been signed but is not necessarily being honored. It states that if I understand a piece of music, I'm likely to like it, too. This is not true. No amount of experience and analysis can by itself induce the stab of communication between art and its beholder.

Holland's point is that learning about something is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't automatically translate into loving something. It's a disconnect that is rarely discussed in the motives of arts organizations trying to build future audiences through education. He also suggests that the emphasis on arts education can be another enabler of arrogance, 'we're not marketable, because our audience isn't smart enough to appreciate us.' Says Holland:

For listeners swayed in the right direction by music education and music appreciation courses, I am deeply grateful. The downside of music education is not only that it confuses understanding with love; it threatens an arrogance that classical music can ill afford. If we put it in the wrong hands with the wrong motives, we end up with a superior class charged with remedying the illiteracy of the unwashed. The consumer, it would seem, bears the fault. The product is rarely held accountable.

Posted by ataylor at 8:28 AM

January 28, 2004

Enabling or unraveling 'the big sort'

There's some interesting stuff for arts and cultural mavens in Richard Florida's latest salvo on the implications of the 'creative class' mindset. Sure, it's a bit over the top and chicken-little-esque (that's what polemics do, after all), but there are bits of wisdom along the way, as well.

Florida is alarmed at the efforts of other countries to build creatively engaging cities that attract the best and the brightest, while America is locking its borders and focusing on more rigid social values. As a result, he says, fewer creatives are coming to America, more creative Americans are moving overseas, and the hothouse of insight, diversity, and innovation that drove our exceptional economic success is cooling down.

Whether this relates to any community's 'SOB' (symphony, opera, ballet) is a valid question. But it certainly relates to the cultural ecosystems of cities, counties, states, and regions. A vibrant mix of opportunities to express, engage, observe, and share the creative impulse -- especially in a social setting -- seems a no-brainer connection for encouraging highly creative workers -- whether lured from somewhere else, or home grown.

More chilling in Florida's article is not the mega-migrations of creatives from one city to another, or one country to another. It's the micro-migrations we all seem to be making within our community sphere. Says he:

City by city, neighborhood to neighborhood...our politics are becoming more concentrated and polarized. We may live in a 50-50 country, but the actual places we live (inner-ring v. outer-ring suburbs, San Francisco v. Fresno) are much more likely to distribute their loyalties 60-40, and getting more lopsided rather than less. These divisions arise not from some master plan but from millions upon millions of individual choices. Individuals are sorting themselves into communities of like-minded people which validate their choices and identities.

It's easy to see how the rigid and individualistic pursuit of professionalized cultural organizations can feed into that separation -- the opera serves a different bunch than the jazz club, which is also niche-marketing to avoid the grunge crowd. More subtle is the sense that the whole idea of a functional purpose for creative expression only makes the matter worse.

A chilling case-in-point comes from the newly appointed, but already embattled, Heritage Minister of Canada, Hélène Chalifour Scherrer. She got an earful from the cultural community when she joked that one of her favorite cultural pursuits is sports. Later, she tried to clarify:

'Heritage Canada isn't necessarily about knowing a lot about culture, but rather taking care of its Canadian identity. Culture is a tool. And you need a vision to be the guardian of the Canadian identity. You don't necessarily have to know what books were published last week.'

Both Scherrer and Florida are convinced that 'culture is a tool.' For Sherrer, it's a tool to protect and preserve. For Florida, it's an economic lure to draw smart people. To me, the very effort to wield cultural expression as a functional tool presents a danger greater than the utility. The power of art is in connection -- in every sense of the word. And tools have a way of defining, reinforcing, and codifying the separation of space.

PROGRAM NOTE: I just noticed that fellow weblogger James Russell has a recent entry featuring the very same quote from Florida's article. Take a peek at Russell's perspective on the whole thing.

Posted by ataylor at 12:49 AM

January 29, 2004

Of local arts, casinos, and economic impact

My hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, is in a bit of a spin over a proposal to upgrade a nearby Native American bingo facility into a full-fledged casino. There's lots of local color in the conflict -- with equal enthusiasm both for and against the proposal (the pro-casino group promotes the large payments to the city and county in a time of fiscal stress, the anti-casino bunch warns of the potential increase in crime, the stress on community infrastructure, and the broader moral issue of government-sanctioned gambling).

For arts and cultural managers NOT in Madison, however, two bits of the conversation warrant weblog commentary here:

First, many of Madison's local arts groups have taken a stand against the casino, saying that if performing arts become a part of the facility (at ticket prices subsidized by gaming), local nonprofits could lose audience and income to unfair competition. Most recently, the governing board of Madison's cultural big box -- the $100-million Overture Center currently under construction -- refused to endorse the letter of opposition from other arts groups, primarily because the board comprises mostly government appointees.

Part of the complexity of the arts/casino debate is that both play the 'public purpose' card. The local arts here, and in many other communities, frequently push economic impact, quality of life, and 'creative class' arguments about why they should be considered in public policy. The casino is emphasizing the cash value of its contract with city and county government in supporting social services, fire and police, and other essentials.

Which leads us to the second item of interest in this story for arts managers everywhere: economic impact. On both sides of the casino debate, there are economic arguments. And both sides have published economic impact analyses of how the new facility would affect the local economy (both available here). Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), the serious researchers on each side find completely different results. Says one:

[The DeJope facility] is expected to generate almost $47,000,000 annually in economic activity within Dane County. The DeJope Casino will create 600 jobs through direct employment....The DeJope Casino will generate over $10,000,000 annually in tax and revenue sharing for the City of Madison and Dane County. Addition local sales and property tax revenue generated by casino operations is estimated at over $2.8 million. Under the revenue sharing agreements, revenue sharing with the city and county will exceed $7,200,000 each year.

Says the other:

An input-output analysis finds Dane County's economy losing $148.6 million each year if a Native American casino is in Madison. A proposed casino has a 72,000 square foot building, 1309 gaming machines, and 39 tables. Each machine wins $190 a day, each table $1120, yielding annual gaming revenues of $106.7 million.

Why the massive difference in findings? Because each author draws different boundaries around their cost analysis; because each author is seeking to support either a client or a personal point of view; because such questions are insanely complex, and able to support whatever argument you care to make -- especially if your goal is not really to understand them.

The casino studies only reinforce the problems with economic impact statements so frequently used by arts organizations and advocates. Even though they tend to be persuasive with local legislators, somebody will eventually become smart enough to see right through them.

PROGRAM NOTE: For those interested, you'll find past posts on economic impact here and here.

Posted by ataylor at 8:36 AM

« December 2003 | Main | February 2004 »