Tuesday, March 1, 2011

So How Does Austin Rate as an Arts Town Compared to, Say, Columbus Ohio?

Thanks to a tip from the daily www.ArtsJournal.com:

Austin at night Frost Bank tower

The Columbus Foundation has just published a January 2011 "sustainability analysis" of the arts market in that Ohio town featuring data of interest to the Austin arts scene.

Contractor AMS Planning and Research compared Columbus to 14 towns across the United States deemed appropriate as comparator arts markets: Austin; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, North Carolin; and San Diego, California.

In their 106-page report the AMS staff concentrate on the client market in Columbus, where they find larger arts organizations more stressed than smaller ones by an overall inflation-adjusted revenue decline of about a third between 2003 and 2008. Curiously, the town's arts orgnizations had the impression that for the same period their audiences had been stable or had grown. To deal with that apparent cluelessness -- not identified as such -- the contractors suggest, "Areas of interest for additional opportunity include market research, collaborating on broad messaging for fundraising, increased advocacy efforts, and engaging underserved audiences."

More to the point for us in Austin, the report displays statistical and psychographic tables for the 14 arts markets. Crunching those numbers a bit more, ALTcom came up with some intriguing results:

Austin showed the highest projected population growth rate for 2009-2014 -- 12%. Jacksonville and Charlotte expect 11% while all others are in single digits.

Austin is in the mid range for GDP per capita, median income ($55,775) and the number of arts & cultural organizations per capita, but scores very high for artists per 1000 working adults (18.1, exceeded only by Nashville's 18.3) and for the percentage of adults 25 years and older who have at least a bachelor's degree (38.4%, exceeded only by Raleigh with 41.4%).

Psychographic profiles used nationwide by Nielsen Claritas portray Austinites as highly interested in the arts (at an index of 108, exceeded only by affluent Minneapolis at 110; the national average index is 100); more likely to go to performances of live theatre than any other city studied except for Minneapolis and Milwaukee (the Austin score is 107; Minneapolis, home of the Guthrie Theatre, is 118 and Milwaukee is 111); more likely to belong to an arts association than any other town except for Minneapolis (112, with Minneapolis at 118), and in the middle of a tightly clustered midrange for likelihood of making charitable contributions.

Arts revenue in Austin was consistently at the bottom of comparative rankings for aggregate sales per capita in 1998, 2003 and 2008. For example, in 2008 Austin arts collected $12.95 per capita and Columbus arts revenue was $18.33. Eight of the fourteen towns scored at $25 or more, with Minneapolis on top at $55.25. Since revenue is contingent on pricing, one attractive statistical implication is that the arts in Austin are far less expensive than in the other towns studied. And, incidentally, arts revenue is trending downward here -- despite a modest expansion 1998 - 2003, arts revenue is now 8% lower than in 1998.

Rephrasing some of the above: Austin has an appetite for art, including live theatre, a well-educated population, and more artists than you can shake a stick at. We don't have more large arts organizations than other towns but we're more likely to be members of them. Arts earnings are relatively low and generally stagnant here. Summary: a good place for audiences, less good for artists.

The study appears not to capture the many small scale or ad hoc theatre organizations in town.

AMS combines all of its statistics and assigns aggregate scores to the 14 towns, separating them into categories labeled Vital (flourishing -- Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Cleveland), Sustainable (well-established -- Kansas City and Cincinnati) and Viable (getting by -- the remaining ten with Austin at number 6).

AMS on behalf of its client the Cleveland Foundation is concerned at least in part in making the case for greater investment in the arts sector and better capitalization for the arts. To that end they quote Clara Miller's article Hidden in Plain Sight:Understanding Nonprofit Capital
” in The Nonprofit Quarterly, spring 2003, with a message equally applicable to the many Austin arts organizations working on a shoestring:

The reasons for the neglect of capitalization run deep in nonprofit culture. Managers, employees and funders share the belief that energy, will power, stamina, and enthusiasm can overcome all obstacles, and that where it does not, some sort of personal failing is to blame. The idea that an inappropriate capital structure can subvert an organization’s ability to meet its objectives can seem overly deterministic, even fatalistic. In the face of adversity, the temptation is to say, ‘We must work harder,’ rather than to look at the balance sheet—where money is or is not allocated—for systemic reasons for failure.

Click to view the full text, appendices and bibliography of Columbus Arts Market Sustainability Analysis, © 2011 AMS Planning & Research Corp. prepred for the Columbus Foundation

1 comment:

  1. Love this - I will be sharing. I, as an artist in the Austin area, do hope that this changes for the artist - mor opportunity that is fruitful versus experiential. I think all can and would benefit from the turn.