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.