Creative Data?

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By Tina

It’s heartening to see in short succession the use of hard stats around private investment in culture. However, there is always more that can be done to complement some of the data and to make it more useful, both for the sector and for policy.

To begin with, Arts Quarter’s ongoing reporting of arts professionals’ attitudes about the recession and its impact on income is useful – however, it would benefit from more regular reporting to show the peaks and troughs and the changes through time, to compare more effectively the difference between stability and uncertainty. The wave-on-wave trends, based on only 4 installments of the survey, were quite reactive in nature (considering when and why they were conducted) and thus reflected the volatility of the time in which they were conducted. This could mean that the findings are slightly skewed, as respondents are influenced by the ‘heat of the moment’ and are likely to be affected by media hype surrounding some of the issues they are being questioned on. More positively, the level of detail is useful and provides an interesting backdrop against which to have any considered debate about the likely growth of private investment in the next three years or so. However, other than the summary, which neatly describes the landscape as it currently seems to stand, the data itself is not provided in a very user-friendly way and the pages of tables means that most people are not only likely to skip through them, but are also therefore likely to miss important trends within the data.

Spotting the differences and assessing why they’re taking place, or trying to predict what might happen next should therefore be made easier through data visualization and interpretation. What would make it even more useful, is triangulating with consumer trends and attitudes about likelihood to donate to the arts. And that’s where the data from We Did This for example, would come in handy, as it adds that all-important perspective of the consumer and profiles the behaviours of the very people that the arts professionals are speculating about. More business intelligence into likelihood for investment in the arts would also help – we are seeing some big businesses have a greater presence in this area lately, but at the same time, we don’t have a sense of the businesses that are opting out or playing safe at the moment. Finally some insight from trusts and foundations on how many arts applications they receive a year and how many are successful for example, would also be helpful in mapping the competitive landscape for the arts and understanding how difficult it is.

The issue here is that in terms of research, much can be said about the gap between what people say and what they do – particularly when it’s what people say about what other people are likely to do. Therefore any such attitudinal research should, in most cases, be considered indicative, though that’s not to say not useful. More research on actual behaviour and giving patterns would therefore helping in bridging some of those gaps and creating a more representative picture of what is happening and what might happen in the future.

The annual Arts & Business survey on Private Investment in Culture should help in answering some of these questions. Though the analysis is retrospective, it is useful and interesting in its own right (and much anticipated I should imagine), but again, could be strengthened with more forward-thinking and market-scoping research.

I know there have been many attempts in getting these projects to speak to each other, to save readers and policy makers from adding this all up themselves, but it seems that there are still other more urgent priorities. The risk with undermining the importance of robust and holistic research is basing recommendations on assumptions, many of which might therefore be misleading or even wrong.

Assorted links

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by Jon

Too many interesting things in the last couple of weeks, too little time to blog. So here are some assorted links that may be of interest.

– For those campaigning against changes to higher education funding in the UK, Alex Tabbarok and Tyler Cowen have some posts at Marginal Revolution that make challenging reading. This one on puppetry is particularly good. Statistics of the type quoted make the economic case for an arts education a tough sell. Other arguments are much stronger, as Tabbarok suggests, and his new book on Innovation will be one to read.

Proof that there is value in an artistic education, albeit only for a given definition of value… Should we be surprised that the biggest gains accrue to men?

– Artsblog have been doing one of their periodic blog salons on arts and business. As ever, the content is mixed, but there is some good stuff in there. Repeat after me, though – Creativity does not equal Innovation.

– The Jack of Kent blog is written by David Allen Green, one of the UK’s best and highest profile skeptics and here he writes about art, art exhibitions and the value of thinking for yourself. As ever the comments are extremely high quality.

– Robin Hanson writing that the psychic value of an artwork depends on the direct physical connection to the artist.

– Public subsidy for solar power is causing controversy. I’m not entirely clear on the balance of funding for this scheme, but it is a fascinating way to wean an arts organisation off public money.

– Mitt Romney made headlines when he pledged to cut arts funding by 50%. This is a compelling read on what the pledge says about him and why it is likely to fail. I would ask: why 50%? What is so special about 50% that it’s become the percentage of choice for attention-seeking right wing politicians?

– Finally, an interview with me in Swedish in a Swedish newspaper. We talked about cultural policy, arts funding and the impact the recession has had on both. I have no idea what it says, so I’m choosing to believe I come across very well.

Lost and Found: Cuts and Impacts

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By Dawn

Shadows

Lost and Found

This is unashamedly a call to get involved. There are two projects going on at the moment that I would really encourage you to engage with. The first is specific to the arts and cultural sector but seems to me to be something that might be replicated elsewhere as an important piece of longitudinal social and economic research.

Lost Arts has been set up by eight unions whose members are directly affected by cuts to the arts: the MU, Equity, BECTU, the Writers Guild of Great Britain, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), UNITE, Prospect and PCS. Over the next three years the unions have undertaken, to record and catalogue all of the projects, events, initiatives, performances, organisations and companies that will be lost due to the cuts in public funding.

They are not saying that the arts are more important than other sectors just that the effects of the cuts should be properly recorded, recognised and publicised. This seems to me to be a really important undertaking and will provide a unique set of data that can add to the debate about how best to value arts and culture.

The second, is aimed at the wider nonprofit sector but I think it is important that the creative and cultural sectors engage, it goes back to a point I made in an earlier blog (Valuing Culture) that if we don’t start creating our own measures someone else will do it for us. The Principles of Good Impact Reporting is another significant partnership project. It brings together seven[1] of the key organisations concerned with the performance of the nonprofit sector. Collectively, with the endorsement of the Charity Commission and the Office for Civil Society, they are endeavouring to set out a number of universal principles for charities and social enterprises to use when measuring and talking about their impact.

The aim is to help charities and social enterprises to shape the way they are perceived. By better defining ‘how’ and ‘what’ charities should communicate in terms of impact, it is hoped the focus can shift from arbitrary measures of effectiveness such as administration costs, to focus on capturing and measuring the real difference charities and social enterprises make to those they help.

The principles have been released for consultation and they are seeking feedback from anyone involved in impact reporting. Whether you support the approach or not it is important that you add your views to the consultation. I’m sure Bad Culture will be covering the project as it evolves.

For more information about the principles, or to give your feedback, email Tris Lumley at tlumley@philanthropycapital.org.

Do try and add your voice to these important projects.


[1] The seven organisations are New Philanthropy Capital, ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) incorporating the ImpACT Coalition, CFDG (Charity Finance Directors Group), the Institute of Fundraising, The SROI Network, NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations).

Where’s the feel good? Are we locked in a vicious cycle of despair?

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By James

I was speaking to a music exec last week – don’t worry, this isn’t quite another copyright rant – and he told me the industry lobby group the BPI had a policy of putting a negative spin on all sales news, because piracy was supposed to be killing the industry… And, if it didn’t appear that way, they wouldn’t get the laws needed to tackle piracy and create a sustainable future for recorded music.

But, my contact feels, this policy could be self defeating. The persistent negative slant could put off talent and investment.

A second contact from the industry tells me the indy sector is booming, but this message never gets out. The fact the message never gets out is again part of an orchestrated policy to bury good news and hype-up the bad.

My second contact is frustrated that the digital crossover sector gets no recognition despite the buzz it’s creating in some quarters.

I’m being told the internet has fuelled a renaissance of the small label record producer. It’s well known the internet provides a low-cost distribution model, but this alone doesn’t make the self-styled, self-recorded, self-produced and self-promoted band a viable model.

A Tumblr page is no substitute for promotion, it’s a backstop. The artist or band still needs promoting to DJs and online channels, and often the most effective way of doing this is to sit down and play it to them; despite the internet!

The web offering – whether it’s Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter – itself needs nourishing, or the feed just gets lost in the ever-increasing background noise. Fans need a helping hand to root-out even the most talented bands and artists.

And then there’s the business side; licensing, registering with collecting societies, clearing any samples or songwriter royalties.  Even the most organised and business-focussed bands would struggle to do all this and make the music.

So we have a new generation of musicians turning to a new breed of music publisher, where signing fees and advances are a rarity. Instead, the new publishers are out to give [what they claim to be] a fair return on each sale (minus, of course, promotion and other fees – we’ve all got to eat and pay the mortgage).

But I digress – a lot! The gist here is I’m being told there’s a lot of good news in the British music sector, but it’s being swamped by a cynical agenda driven by those controlling large back-catalogues. Indy labels have nothing to be gained from extending copyright, yet the majors – so I’m told – are already looking at a 90-year protection term despite having just won the extension from 50 to 70 years.

The rub for the independents comes when the gloom-laden publicity agenda of the majors starts to impact their own business. What self-respecting bank or angel investor would pump money into a business we’re all told – at regular intervals – is being “decimated” by piracy.

Yes, the term “decimated” is being used by industry press monkeys, see here and here, despite the Latin origin meaning “reduce by one tenth”. The irony being that the strict meaning is probably an accurate portrayal of the state of the sector as a whole, a 10% hit not being so bad considering the prolonged recession.

If good news doesn’t start to reach the ears of lenders and investors the death of the music industry could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with overly cynical press and lobbying, not piracy, delivering the fatal blow.