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Arts and Culture Public Officials Breakfast 2015

strengthening, unifying and connecting greater Cleveland's arts and culture sector

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Not Your Average BFF

It was early October and I had spent many hours hunched over my computer in Easton, PA with my new best friend, STATA, a statistical software. Needless to say, STATA and I are not the kind of friends who curl up on the couch together and watch Gilmore Girls with glasses of wine. But nevertheless, STATA was proving valuable – it helped me wrangle five year’s worth of DataArts (formally Cultural Data Project) data -- thousands of data points -- from 62 arts and cultural organizations in Cuyahoga County. 

If you’ve ever filled out a Data Arts profile for your nonprofit organization, you know that you’ll probably need to ice your wrists afterwards because there are so many questions to click through. How many square feet of space does your organization own, rent, and get donated? How many city, county, state, and federal dollars have come through your door? How many volunteers lend you a hand? Phew!

This is the fifth year CPAC has used Data Arts data to publish Culture Pulse reports, snapshots of Cuyahoga County’s arts and cultural organizations’ financial, space, and human resources. To make this year’s analysis more meaningful, CPAC wanted to dig into differences and similarities among small, mid-sized, and large organizations. I knew STATA could slice and dice data to help paint this picture but we would need to do more because a) once we split up organizations by size, the three categories get pretty small, meaning one organization could possibly skew averages, b) we firmly believe in weaving together quantitative and qualitative data to help tell a more robust story, and c) talking with humans is much more thrilling than bonding with STATA.

So, I said goodbye to STATA, and my colleague Anne and I headed to Cleveland, armed with some graphs, charts, and lots of questions. While in Cleveland, we convened three focus groups, one each with leaders of small, mid-sized, and large arts and cultural organizations. We were excited to “ground truth” some interesting quantitative analysis: "Do these numbers ring true to you?" "Can you help us make sense of them, drawing on your own experiences running arts and cultural nonprofits?"

But, before we dug into any numbers or talk of full time staff equivalents and contributed revenue, we started off the focus groups asking for one tidbit from each participant about the arts and cultural ecosystem in Cuyahoga County that outsiders (ah-hem, Anne and I) should know. Interestingly, we heard some similar themes across all three groups. Participants spoke to region’s openness to collaboration between arts and cultural organization as a unique strength, and saw needs and opportunities to do more. At the same time, we heard about pressures of competition among arts organizations; perhaps because of the robust local funding, LOTS of arts and cultural organizations call Cuyahoga County home.

Do any of the DataArts data help us quantify these desires and concerns around collaboration and competition? No, not really. But, this information helped us paint a fuller picture of the nonprofit creative community in Cuyahoga County that we couldn’t do solely with quantitative data. We invite you to read this year’s Culture Pulse executive summary, narrative woven together using Data Arts data and insight shared through the focus groups.

After two days of learning about the incredible work happening in Cuyahoga County’s nonprofit arts and culture sector, Anne and I grabbed a pumpkin roll from West Side Market and flew back east where STATA welcomed me with open arms. 

This blog is used under license and was submitted by volunteer contributor Rachel Engh, Research Associate, Metris Arts Consulting. Learn more about Metris Arts Arts Consulting at their website, metrisarts.com. The opinions represented here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CPAC. CPAC does not endorse the purchase of products or services by its guest bloggers. We thank all writers for volunteering their expertise with us in order to continue to strengthen, unify and connect greater Cleveland’s arts and culture community. 

Categories: Cultural Data Project, Cuyahoga, DataArts, nonprofit, research

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