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Moneyball for art: Stat tracking program looks to change the cultural realm

Ask art administrators what their biggest challenge is and they'll respond in unison: Money. Their second, however, is access to statistical data that measure value, impact and efficiency — information that helps justify their métier and secure funds from granting organizations.

A venture new to Texas hopes to change that.

The Lone Star State has joined the Philadelphia-based Cultural Data Project, an online tool that archives facts, figures and statistics from cultural organizations large, small and unincorporated from across the country. That includes museums, theaters, historic landmarks and festivals.

Texas' involvement in the initiative means that information from more than 14,500 organizations in 13 states will contribute to a cyber hub where economic and directorial intelligence is stored. The collective particulars, when analyzed, can provide arguments that boost support for artistic activities.

 "Nonprofits will now be able to compare their activity to other like-minded organizations across not only the state, but country."

"The Cultural Data Project's arrival in Texas is going to be incredibly meaningful to the art community," Jenni Rebecca Stephenson, Fresh Arts executive director, explains. "Not only from the standpoint of data collection for the sake of advocacy, but also as means of providing a comprehensive view of an organization's activity from fundraising to marketing to engagement."

The web platform standardizes how financials from the nonprofit sector are shared with stakeholders and funding institutions. It also allows organizations to evaluate their strategic approach — whether in marketing, development or operations — against their peers.

"Nonprofits will now be able to compare their activity to other like-minded organizations across not only the state, but country," Stephenson adds.

A conglomerate of institutions that include The Brown Foundation, the Houston Endowment and the Houston Arts Alliance underwrote the technology upgrade. Arts organizations in Texas will have access to the services of the Cultural Data Project for free. 

As one of the healthier arts markets in the nation atop its diverse demographic make up, officials expect that Houston's input will layer an important dimension to the ongoing conversation about arts and arts leadership on a local, national and international level.

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