Health of Arts Organizations Mixed, Report Finds

Health of Arts Organizations Mixed, Report Finds

While arts organizations have seen increases in program revenue per attendee and digital participation, many are facing a mismatch between program offerings and audience demand, a report from the National Center for Arts at Southern Methodist University finds.

Based on 2013 data from nearly five thousand arts and cultural organizations across the country, the third edition of the NCAR report (HTML) examined seven indices of the health of the sector — program revenue per attendee, total earned revenue, earned relational revenue (from subscriptions and memberships), return on marketing, response to marketing, community engagement, and number of people engaged per program offering. According to the analysis, between 2010 and 2013, on average, program revenue per attendee trended upward; total earned revenue (not including capital gains) supported 52 percent of expenses; and subscriptions and memberships supported 7.6 percent of expenses. The report also notes that the subscription model for arts organizations is not dead; while the subscriptions and membership indices for theaters, opera companies, and symphony orchestras fell slightly, those indices rose for performing arts centers, community organizations, and museums, albeit at a lower level.

The analysis also found that, over the same period, arts and cultural organization earned $4.91, on average, in program revenue for every dollar spent on marketing and spent $3.93 on marketing per attendee; and that the in-person engagement level across the sector remained virtually unchanged, while total engagement increased substantially due to growth in onsite digital participation, especially among opera companies, symphony orchestras, and art museums.

At the same time, the number of people engaged per program offering fell slightly, from 666 in 2010 to 655 in 2012, before declining significantly, to 594, in 2013 — a 10.8 percent drop over four years. The report further notes that in six of the eleven arts sub-sectors, most notably arts museums and dance companies, organizations continued to add programmatic offerings while reaching fewer people. Such a mismatch in supply and demand may be due to new initiatives being taken on for mission-fulfillment purposes; funders favoring new program development over current offerings; organizations trying to attract new, diverse participants with new program offerings; and/or gaps in communication and strategy.

"This report aims to show arts organizations what their peers are doing, what the trends are, and how they are performing in comparison to the rest of the field. For example, one question we look to answer in this edition is how much marketing investment it takes to bring in one person to an organization," said NCAR director Zannie Voss. "By comparing the results of sector practices, an organization can determine if its strategies are in line with those that are most effective in the industry, or if planning needs to be shifted accordingly."

"SMU's National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) Releases New Edition of Data on the Health of U.S. Arts & Cultural Organizations." Southern Methodist University National Center for Arts Research Press Release 09/09/2015.