Nonprofit Arts Industry Sees Opportunity in Numbers

Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

For New Jersey’s museums, theaters, orchestras, and dance companies, it’s logic and numbers that keep these art-based businesses alive. At the biennial Jersey Arts Thrive Conference, leaders learn how to study their audiences to better build their products and sell their brands.

“Data is everything,” says Jim Atkinson, ArtPride New Jersey Foundation Director of Programs and Services. “The arts are all about the audiences that we serve, and if we don’t know who we’re serving, we don’t really know what we’re doing.  So it’s very important that arts organizations have a better grasp of who they’re serving, and that way they can serve them better.”

ArtPride New Jersey Foundation offers organizations access to a database that cross-references ticket buyer information with the same demographic and psychographic reports that many major companies use—providing these organizations with often-surprising insight into their own audiences.

“Age, income, ethnicity, lifestyle characteristics like where do you shop and how,” lists President & CEO of TRG Arts Jill Robinson. “That kind of profile data is data that big business has used for some time.  It’s finding its way to the arts right now.”

This information is presented as aggregate numbers and percentages, not personal background information on individual buyers, and the impact of a company better understanding their patrons on the whole, can be enormous.  Paper Mill Playhouse, one of the state’s largest theater companies, has used this type of information to make adjustments to its programming.

Michael Gepner is the Playhouse’s Director of Marketing and Sales. “Our artistic team, now with being able to have this information, is now much more comfortable in making programming decisions that they might not have been as comfortable making in the past…Thinking more about doing new work and being the theater that develops the next big Broadway shows,” he says.

It’s not just about the audiences though.  As an area of state and federal budgets that frequently lands on the chopping block, the nonprofit arts industry must advocate for its own survival, and statistics on constituents participating in the arts carries weight with political leaders.

“I think it really makes a difference because the arts are usually seen as something emotional, and subjective, and hard to evaluate, and hard to understand what the impact is,” says Ann Marie Miller, Executive Director of ArtPride New Jersey Foundation. Now that we’re able to measure it in different ways, it really does make a difference.”

And ArtPride hopes it will make a difference for the state as a whole.

“Well the possibilities are really endless for how this can be used,” says Atkinson.  “I think that it can help us better program what we’re doing, I think it can help bring even more people into our doors, put more people in the seats, have more people visiting our galleries, and make our downtowns even more vibrant.”

This summer, another online resource, the Cultural Data Project, is set to launch a New Jersey division. It will provide information on the economic impact of the state’s arts community.