Last week we talked about the Art of Data Science. Let’s turn that on its head this week, and think about the Data Science of Art. I turned to the experts I know over at AEA Consulting. AEA Consulting is a New York-based cultural consulting firm that works with arts organizations and funders all over the world. Established in 1991, AEA’s founder Adrian Ellis was most recently Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center from 2007 – 2011. The AEA team, including AEA principal Elizabeth Ellis, Brent Reidy (not to be confused with our TA, Ben Reddy) and Becky Schutt (my sister!) put together the following on museums and data.
By Elizabeth Ellis, Brent Reidy and Becky Schutt
There are three key issues with regard to data science at museums:
1) There is a lack of historic data; and/or
2) Museum institutions lack resources (time, expertise, staff, money) to gather and analyze new data; and
3) Perhaps most importantly, many of the goals that cultural organizations have set for themselves – or are imposed upon them – do not lend themselves to quantitative analysis based on data. It is notoriously difficult, for example, to measure intangible impacts such as artistic value, aesthetic experience, the extent to which a performing arts center is fostering social cohesion or contributing to a community’s quality of life, or whether, say, a museum is effectively stewarding the world’s most important cultural heritage….
In 2004, Maxwell Anderson wrote a paper “Metrics of Success in Museums,” in which he argues that the data that museums tend to collect and the metrics against which they tend to judged — e.g. annual attendance, number of “blockbuster” exhibitions, size of collection, etc., — do not adequately measure success at a museum, because they do not capture educational, artistic, social or other more intangible outcomes. Museums measure that which can be measured easily. Anderson offers a different set of metrics to help museums better measure success, for example, by surveying visitors to find out how many attendees experience “an intangible sense of elation—a feeling that a weight was lifted off their shoulders” when he or she visits the museum.
Anderson’s paper was well received and remains a guidepost for museums as they think on ways to measure success more fully and fairly, and about how to capture data to support that measurement. (For example, it was mentioned recently in a post on Tyler Green’s art blog: http://blogs.artinfo.com/modernartnotes/2012/07/the-sudden-sexiness-of-museum-success-metrics/ )
However, much has changed in the world of data since the paper was published (2004). In what ways would you suggest that Anderson’s guidelines be updated — how could a museum take advantage of trends in technology, data science, and evaluation to gather and analyze the sort of data that could help not only measure its success, but to help achieve its mission?
To get at this question, first read Tyler Green’s post, and then skim Anderson’s paper, which is linked on Green’s blog (and also available here: http://blogs.artinfo.com/modernartnotes/files/2012/07/AndersonMetrics.pdf). For a potential jump start on ideas, see the Dashboard Anderson set up as Director of the Indianapolis Museum: http://dashboard.imamuseum.org/
And remember: museums and other arts organizations have tight budgets and rarely have significant resources to dedicate to data gathering and analysis — so keep that sensitivity in mind and suggest strategies that are economical and easy to implement. Crucially any data strategy must demonstrate to the end user that the data will be useful – in improving the visitor experience, in increasing earned (tickets/café/shop, etc) and contributed income (public and private funding), in developing a more nuanced marketing strategy, and so forth — to justify the investment.
In order to help address this question, it may be helpful to look at a few museum mission statements. Here are three examples:
The Museum of Modern Art: The Museum of Modern Art is a place that fuels creativity, ignites minds, and provides inspiration. With extraordinary exhibitions and the world’s finest collection of modern and contemporary art, MoMA is dedicated to the conversation between the past and the present, the established and the experimental. Our mission is helping you understand and enjoy the art of our time.
The Newark Museum: The Newark Museum operates, as it has since its founding, in the public trust as a museum of service, and a leader in connecting objects and ideas to the needs and wishes of its constituencies. We believe that our art and science collections have the power to educate, inspire and transform individuals of all ages, and the local, regional, national and international communities that we serve. In the words of founding Director John Cotton Dana,”A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questioning—and thus promotes learning.”
Dallas Museum of Art: We collect, preserve, present, and interpret works of art of the highest quality from diverse cultures and many centuries, including that of our own time. We ignite the power of art, embracing our responsibility to engage and educate our community, to contribute to cultural knowledge, and to advance creative endeavor.