Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dataarts Helps Cultural Programs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dataarts Helps Cultural Programs

Article excerpt

The words big data may make your eyes roll, but they are music to the ears of Rebecca Himberger. The executive director of Attack Theatre can't get enough of having at her fingertips the facts and figures that tell the story of Pittsburgh's contemporary dance company.

To keep it all straight, she visits her one-stop-shopping spot for information, the former Cultural Arts Project, a website built for nonprofit cultural organizations and funders that originated in Pennsylvania, with the Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation and Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council as ground-floor stakeholders. In the past month, the online database has reintroduced itself as DataArts and is about to launch as a national resource.

"Its biggest value for us is being able to articulate the work we do in a more effective way," said Ms. Himberger, who admits that she is "a nerd about it," visiting the site and her company's Cultural Data Profile (CDP) up to four times a week.

The database has been around since 2004 and allows a small organization with limited staff - Attack Theatre has four full- timers - to input a wealth of information once a year in one spot and have it ready for reference with just a few clicks.

Although the database was created as a sort of matchmaking service between grant makers and cultural organizations, with the CDP questionnaire designed to facilitate those relationships, Ms. Himberger said it has myriad uses, especially in spotting trends and helping with strategic planning.

She cites Attack Theatre's recent trend toward "going deeper as opposed to casting a net very wide," for example, at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, working with the same 40 students for six months.

"That's the value of data when we are sitting with funders - we can quickly articulate information about impact vs. numbers. We can show how we made strategic choices to go deeper with a group of students than try to serve every child on the planet," Ms. Himberger said.

On a wider stage, Beth Tuttle, the president and CEO of DataArts, who has overseen the organization since its inception, points to use of the data to reinforce decisions such as the 2008 reinstatement of Philadelphia's Office of Arts and Culture and the defeat of the proposed 2009 Pennsylvania arts tax that would have imposed a 6 percent tax on tickets to all cultural events, from theaters to zoos.

Research by Fractured Atlas, a national nonprofit artist service organization that is a major sponsor of the upcoming Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, used CDP data to produce "Under My Umbrella: Fiscal Sponsorship" in New York state in January 2014. The report showed that fiscal sponsorship alone does not impede organizational health, including earned income, attendance and fundraising efficiency.

The former Cultural Arts Project was launched as a relatively modest service to assist Philadelphia grant makers before expanding statewide with the Pittsburgh Greater Arts Council, Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation joining the Pew Foundation, among others, as early stakeholders.

"I'm glad it's opening the door to what's happening in Pittsburgh and what's happening nationally with the new organization, DataArts," said Janet Sarbaugh, senior program director for the Heinz Endowments. "The Cultural Data Project was born in the eastern part of Pennsylvania from a group of funders who hungered for more quantitative, longitudinal and comparable data. …

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