"leap" by Flickr user sabrina's stash.

“leap” by Flickr user sabrina’s stash.

Loyal Createquity readers,

In  2014, we took a big leap, and you leaped with us. Running a traditional arts blog wasn’t feeling very exciting to us anymore, and we thought it might be getting old for you too. We made a bet that there was a need and an opportunity for a new kind of publication: one with the bold mission of identifying the most important issues in the arts and what we could do about them.

Were we right? I’d say that I have two overarching takeaways thus far. The first is that the need is there. In many ways, 2015 has felt like the year that our field is finally starting to admit its information overload problem. The old models of disseminating knowledge don’t work, and some of the most valuable insights of our time are buried in PDFs that nobody reads. In conversation after conversation I’ve received validation that the need for synthesis, for making sense of it all, for meaning, is a real one—and cultural leaders see it that way even if they don’t immediately associate Createquity with meeting that need. I feel more confident than ever that we’re on to something big.

The second takeaway is that filling that need is a breathtakingly ambitious goal. Making the leap from personal blog to professional publication is hard enough as it is. On top of that, we’ve had to to add a whole new capacity for large-scale research synthesis on top of our existing core competencies—all while maintaining an active publication schedule. We’re pretty sure we’re on the right path, but some days it feels like that path is the length of Siberia and we’re traveling it via Segway.

Here are some of the things that have gone well in 2015:

  • Having a definition of a healthy arts ecosystem. If everything were as good as it could be, how would that be different from today? You’d be surprised to know how infrequently that question is even asked in our field, much less answered. And yet how can you design effective programs and policies if you’re not sure what you’re trying to accomplish? I wrote about the lack of consensus on what success in the arts looks like in one of the first substantive posts for this site more than eight years ago, and it’s a theme that’s come up repeatedly ever since. Combined with our emerging understanding of the arts’ role in contributing to individual and collective wellbeing, our definition of a healthy arts ecosystem for the first time offers the potential to bring the disparate schools of thought about the impact of the arts under one roof. For us, it functions as our vision statement, moral compass, and research agenda all in one—and there’s no reason why it couldn’t do that for you too. I’m generally not prone to grandiose statements, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that even if Createquity were to close up shop tomorrow, this document on its own will have been an immense contribution to those following in our wake. Because if we don’t know what kind of future we want, that future is going to be decided for us.
  • Our published features. When we relaunched Createquity last October, we decided that our flagship content entree was going to mix the analytical heft of a think tank white paper with the storytelling punch of a New Yorker article. We’re still perfecting the recipe, but our first of these to come out of our test kitchen, May’s “Why Don’t They Come?,” offered a hell of a proof of concept. It broke single-day traffic records for the site five times over, attracted attention from the likes of Marginal Revolution and Public Radio International, and dredged up insights from the research literature that surprised even me. You can keep track of what we’ve learned over at the issue pages for our two editorial content themes, Disparities of Access and Capacity to Create Change.
  • Making friends in high places. We invested a lot of time this year in converting the reputational capital that Createquity has built up over the years into tangible support from some of our field’s leading institutions, including the Andrew W. Mellon, Robert W. Deutsch, and Howard Gilman Foundations, Fractured Atlas, MailChimp, and CultureLab (an initiative of WolfBrown). We’re grateful to these pioneers for not only seeing the potential of what we’re trying to do but having faith in our ability to make it happen.
  • Our editorial team. It turns out that a lot of people want to be a part of something like this! The selection process for joining Createquity is more competitive than it’s ever been, and I still can’t quite believe it when I tell people that Createquity has a paid editorial team of twelve. We now have coverage of all essential function areas and have the capacity to be resilient in the face of vacations, unexpected departures, etc.

And here’s what’s been more of a challenge:

  • The pace of our research process is substantially slower than we’d like it to be. At Createquity’s planning retreat a year and a half ago, we identified six target areas for research investigation; at the rate we’re going, it could take us decades just to get through that initial list. Whether the answer is increased capacity, a smarter workflow, better project management, or some combination of the above, we’re committed to increasing output in 2016, and how best to accomplish that is a major focus of the Mellon-funded planning process that we’re currently undergoing.
  • Prioritizing research investigations. How should we choose what to write about and in what order? In an ideal world, we would rank potential topics by importance and then pick the most important ones to cover first. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way for us to do that since we only learn how important a topic is in the course of researching it. As a result, we don’t yet have a sophisticated way of prioritizing research investigations. We are exploring some advanced techniques that could allow us to make quantitative estimates about how topics compare to each other, but that route poses formidable technical and conceptual challenges that will take time to unravel. In the meantime, we plan to solicit input from all of you on what you see as the most important issues in the arts. Look for an announcement about our latest reader poll in the near future.
  • Individual fundraising. We had envisioned a range of revenue streams for Createquity, including sponsorships and donations in addition to grants. If you’ve visited the website in the past year, you’ve no doubt noticed the lovely donation form that appears at the bottom of the homepage and every post. Since October 2014, we’ve received a grand total of one unsolicited donation (thank you Barbara Schaffer Bacon!) in response to that form we were so careful to build into the site design, and a recent appeal to our entire list yielded more unsubscribes than clicks. It’s cool; we get it! We’ve decided to take a more targeted approach with individual fundraising going forward. That said, we know there are some folks out there who plan to contribute to Createquity this holiday season; some of you have even told us so yourselves. For you, I am just going to leave this link right here.

Looking ahead to the new year, we have some exciting things on the horizon. Having learned during the development of “Why Don’t They Come?” that television is the closest thing we have to a national pastime, we’re now looking at the evidence base around TV’s effect on people, with a particular focus on economically disadvantaged adults. As part of an investigation into the history of change in the arts ecosystem in the past 50 years, we’re examining how the nonprofit arts infrastructure came into being, with an eye towards understanding what kinds of change might be possible in the next half century. We’re working on a raft of public programming, including our first podcast collaboration with Fractured Atlas on the topic of effective altruism, Twitter chats, and an in-person speaking event. (Speaking of Twitter, if you’re on it and are not following @createquity, you are seriously missing out.) We have a whole bunch of articles currently in development, including our take on the top 10 arts policy stories of 2015. As always, the best way to stay current on what we have in the works is to follow Createquity Insider, our transparency initiative sharing insights and questions from our research process.

We’re so grateful for your support and attention in 2015, and we look forward to earning it all over again and then some in the new year.

  • SuJ’n

    Thank you for the nice recap of what’s happening with Createquity, Ian! I look forward to seeing this souped-up vehicle take off. – SuJ’n