Saturday, August 20, 2011

IL Cultural Data Project

You know that we have joined a dozen other funders in requiring the use of the IL Cultural Data Project (CDP) as part of the application process, but do you know why? The features that allow you to easily illustrate trends in key indicators, such as earned income, contributed income, or operating deficits, help us track your progress without having to ask you for lots of information in your final reports. That is one good reason to keep it current, particularly if your organization is improving. Although we need to see the FY2010 figures for all SMART Growth applicants, if you have completed your 2011 fiscal year and already have the audit/Form 990, it's important to enter those figures, as well.

There's another good reason that so many funders are driving their grantees to this data collection system. There are now 698 arts/cultural organizations in Cook County that have entered data for 1-3 fiscal years, and we can begin to see what is "normal" and will be sharing that with you.

We will also be integrating this data into our Cultural Vitality Indicators for the region and sharing it with the City of Chicago to help inform the development of its new Cultural Plan. For this reason, it is essential that the data reflects the broad and diverse spectrum of our sector and is not skewed by lack of participation among small groups, ethnic organizations, suburban locations, etc.

So, now that you are in the know about its value, can I get you to think differently about some of the numbers you enter - specifically, those related to participation? Currently, researchers cannot use this data for analysis because organizations are entering figures that are not valid. A common example, is an organization that performs at a festival or marches in a parade and lists hundreds of thousands of audience members. First, attendance at these events is always a very vague estimate, and more important, unless the parade was in honor of your organization or it was your organization's festival, the throngs of participants are not really YOUR audience - right? We will never be able to determine if and how strategies for increasing audience participation work if folks continue to inflate their numbers to the point where no one will waste time analyzing them across the arts industry. These figures need to be useful, both to you and the field, so please keep that in mind when putting numbers together regarding attendance. Thanks.

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