Boosting data and analytics capabilities for arts institutions

Art institutions improve our lives and livelihoods in diverse ways: education, health, creativity, empathy, inclusion, tourism, and economic growth, to name just a few. Quantifying this impact however is challenging. The intrinsic qualities of the arts resist easy quantification and assessing social impact is complex. As a result, few arts institutions have invested in data & analytics practices. Today there exist no standardized and holistic performance measures for arts institutions, and few institutions have the organizational structures or teams to leverage data & analytics in a systematic way. “Identifying, negotiating, and/or building an effective data collection and analysis tool is challenging due to limited capabilities and perceived ROI,” says KP Trueblood, president and COO at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, while Eric Woods, COO at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, points to the “lack of bandwidth and capabilities to analyze and derive insights from visitor data that the institution is already capturing.”

We want to increase our ability to use and communicate data through the organization to maximize impact and resource utilization.

Kaywin Feldman, Director, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

But things are now changing. With data and analytics now an established value driver for a diverse range of organisations – to report progress, shape strategy and inform decisions – governments, organizing bodies, and funding groups are increasingly pointing to data and analytics as a priority for the cultural sector. With a possible economic slowdown looming in 2023, arts institutions face strong internal and external pressures to increase their visibility into their own financial performance, strengthen their business case to boards and stakeholders, and more tangibly articulate their socioeconomic impact. “[We need to] understand common financial benchmarks to better assess financial performance in the face of crises and uncertainty,” says Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Data & analytics is becoming critical.

In this article, we describe five key strategies for strengthening data and analytics practices in arts institutions. These strategies were developed in collaboration with seven leading art museums and orchestras in the USA to design a simple, robust and scalable strategic dashboard. Our shared design methodology recognized that each institution’s mission is unique, and that what constitutes success will vary by institution. The focus rather was on designing a dashboard with which an institution to assess its trajectory, match performance with aspirations, and ideally, collaborate with other organizations on establishing standard measures for similar activities.

Looking ahead

We suggest the following four actions for boards and executives in art institutions to unlock greater value from data and analytics:

  • Commit to standardized data sharing across institutions
  • Invest in internal data capabilities (talent and processes) to enable a single source of truth on performance with efficiency and confidence.
  • Address blind spots in data collection and management, particularly around audience data, which is critical to assessing social impact and DEI aspirations.
  • Model a data and analytics mindset by implementing a dashboard that is presented to boards and stakeholders and shared across the institution.