Spotlight On: Sustain Arts and Theater Bay Area

Dale Albright is the program director at Theater Bay Area. We interviewed him about his organization's experience using Sustain Arts--a newly-launched fundraising tool that provides open access to arts and cultural philanthropy data. 

1. What does your organization do? Tell us about your mission and your work.

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Theatre Bay Area’s mission is to unite, strengthen, promote, and advance the theatre community in the San Francisco Bay Area. We work on behalf of our conviction that the performing arts are an essential public good, critical to a healthy and truly democratic society, and invaluable as a source of personal enrichment and growth. Specifically, we offer a suite of benefits to our members (audience, individual, associate, and company); additionally, we offer such programs (to members and to the field at large) as an annual conference, general auditions, career development workshops, audience development tools, discounted tickets and granting programs. More details are available on our website

2. What role does data play in your work?

Data is always key to making effective decisions about strategy and program delivery. Not only do we use data for our own purposes, but we certainly hope to make data available to our members in order for them to make their own informed decisions about their own specific programs and strategies. Data helps us know that what works for one organization may not work for another in a different set of circumstances.. I’m sure that many of us have learned the hard way that we can only trust our instincts so much: it is invaluable to have actual, measurable information from which to make decisions. Data can be surprising, and offer a cool dose of reality in the bustling activity around our assumptions of what we think to be true. Where does the data support that a certain program things is  actually doing what it is intending to do (and then how can this be leveraged)? Where does the data support areas that a particular program may need creative restructuring or reimaging ? Assuming it’s collected correctly, data can’t be wrong. It’s exciting to think what we as creative people can then do with it. For example by using Sustain Arts data, we can see what zip codes have no arts organizations. What can we, as a service organization, do to encourage arts programming in these areas?

3. Outside of funding data, what other aspect of the Sustain Arts data do you anticipate will be most useful to your organization?

In my role as program director for Theatre Bay Area, I am mostly interested in using the Sustain Arts information as a tool for our members to make more effective decisions about advocacy and marketing efforts, funding opportunities, and the allocations of their resources. For example: an organization that we serve recently needed to make a case to their city’s leaders about the relevance of the arts in their community. Not only did the information available through Sustain Arts allow this organization to cite that the Bay Area zip code with the highest participation in arts as a whole was in their district; but, drilling down more, the data also demonstrated in which specific kinds of arts disciplines their residents participate. This allowed them to look at their own programming in a new way, identify possible partners of which they previously hadn’t been aware, and make the case that their community values the arts. This sort of specific, dynamic information is invaluable to arts leaders around the Bay Area.

4. In your opinion, how can data sharing and sector-wide transparency benefit arts funding?

In large part, it is only through aggregate information like Sustain Arts’ that a more complete and vibrant picture of the local arts scene can be articulated. By sharing and collecting data from such a wide variety of sources, like we see in Sustain Arts, both public and private funders can get a better sense of sector-wide activity (or advocacy/service organizations can use the data to show them). Where are holes (both geographically and in regards to discipline, for example)? What niche is a particular organization filling that this data supports making a case for? As arts organizations, we tend to be so under-resourced that we allow ourselves to get deeper and deeper in our own bubble. It can be hard to find the easy and quick way to get information about our region, our organizational peers, and those organizations we aspire to be. I’m thankful for Sustain Arts: this tool allow us to see the greater picture (literally and figuratively) of the arts funding ecosystem, and how we can leverage our standing in it.

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Dale Albright is the program director at Theater Bay Area.