These initial research reports were completed during summer 2014 by members of the Createquity editorial team. They are intended to give a sense of our (very) preliminary thoughts on the topic in question. We welcome discussion and debate. –IDM

Hypotheses:

  1. Not enough “scarce” opportunities are available to those who have the most to contribute, because organizations frequently prioritize things such as increasing organizational size, monumental buildings, and pleasing institutional and individual funders above sustainable development towards long-term mission success.
  2. The best possible mix of cultural products is not available (and people are not always matched with the best opportunities to engage in the arts), because arts organizations’ missions are not designed with the ecosystem in mind and a disproportionate number of organizations are committed to elite, Western art forms.
  3. “Scarce” opportunities are disproportionately made available to people whose work connects with a large audience (rather than those who have a lot to contribute in other ways), because arts organizations produce traditionally populist art in order to increase their short-term returns.

 

A bit about our process

John started with searches on Google, Google scholar, and Project Muse, using search terms like

  • arts nonprofits mission homogeneity
  • arts nonprofits adaptive capacity
  • arts nonprofits administrators motivations
  • arts nonprofits administrators careers
  • arts nonprofits organizational change
  • arts organizations mortality rates

and other variations thereof.

John also looked into the numerous blog posts that sprung up in the wake of Rocco Landesman’s comments on the over-supply of arts organizations in 2011, to see if any of them cited any research or data that could be useful here, but found very little.

Most of the literature that came up in these searches was related to the management of nonprofits in general, rather than focused on the arts. In order to find some content that was more specifically related to the arts, John set out to review the tables of contents of some of the most relevant academic journals. John started by reviewing the last five years of the Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society and was able to find a couple of good articles.

At this point, John passed the torch on to Devon, who continued the review of academic journals.

Devon reviewed:

  • International Journal of Arts Management 2005 – 2010
  • Museum Management and Curatorship 2009 – 2014
  • Nonprofit Management and Leadership 2009 – 2014
  • JSTOR for keywords
    • Arts infrastructure, arts investment in buildings, arts mission

 

Determine the extent to which research exists addressing the topic area in general.

Determine the extent to which research exists addressing the specific hypotheses that we developed.

There is quite a bit of research on factors (such as organizational rigidity and misaligned motivations) that can lead nonprofit organizations to be less effective than they could be. However, it seems that most of this literature defines success at the organizational level rather than thinking of the ecosystem as a whole.

John wasn’t able to find anything that addressed the second hypotheses (that the mission of the existing nonprofits might be part of the problem). Devon found an article about the influence of wide/narrow mission statements on financial performance, and one on the challenges/opportunities with wide missions. Devon also found journal articles on programming strategies tied to populist art, but not necessarily “Western, elite” art forms.

 

Identify any hypotheses that are missing from the list but should be added in light of what you’ve found in the research.

I didn’t notice any.

 

If possible, arrive at a broad understanding of where there are areas of consensus and debate in the research that does exist. (Looking for just a general impression here, not an in-depth review of particular studies.)

It seems that there are relatively cohesive bodies of literature on factors that influence decision-making processes, the capacity to innovate, and the capacity for organizational change in nonprofits. There are a few articles on compensation practices at the organizational and executive level, but none in the arts.

 

If possible, arrive at an initial impression regarding the extent to which each hypothesis is supported by the research that does exist. Again if possible, assign a low/medium/high level of confidence to this impression. You can divide the hypotheses into subcomponents if that’s useful.

There is literature to support a discussion of Hypotheses 1 and 3, but we haven’t found anything on Hypothesis 2. Much of the literature we have gathered so far is not specifically about the arts, and even the arts-related literature we have found does not tie the issues to the availability of “scarce resources” in the eco-system. That is, the literature discusses the issues that are identified in the hypotheses, but it is unlikely to tell us whether these issues demonstrably lead to the negative outcomes that we have surmised.

 

Report back on the utility of Zotero, Papers, and Google Docs/Sheets for tracking preliminary investigations like these. Decide whether to commit a team-wide solution at this point or experiment with other options in the next round.

John already used Zotero for the previous assignment and he continues to be pleased with Zotero as a bibliographic tool. Devon was using Zotero for the first time. She downloaded the browser plugin, but it did not seem to work for any of the journals she was using, so the copy/paste method for each article was the same for Zotero as Google Spreadsheets. Overall, seems like Google Spreadsheets is easier/better for short term research evaluation (to see/scan abstracts all at the same time), while Zotero is likely better in the long term, to track using folders & tags.