Dancemakers (NEA-28) 2017 Digital Edition

In 1993, Dick Netzer and Ellen Parker prepared a very specific report for the National Endowment for the Arts based on a survey conducted by Alyce Dissette and Richard J. Orend [pdf]. The original survey, conducted in 1990, was circulated to about 2000 choreographers in four cities in the United States (Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.). About a quarter of those responded.

The original report (NEA Research Report 28 [pdf]) has been scanned and reproduced digitally at least a few times by various institutions. Unfortunately, when the document was originally published, many of the figures provided were printed in something that very nearly approximated non-repo blue, and so the scanned documents reproduce these figures poorly, if at all. The one linked above is the best I could find.

Behold, the power of the library. I managed to track down a real, paper version of this document, complete with it’s binding glue disintegrating, and with a little patience (including some unfortunate issues of “that’s available online, you don’t need the paper version, so you can’t have it”)… I present to you, for your dance economics reading pleasure (not sure ‘pleasure’ is the right word…), the 2017 digital edition of NEA Research Report 28 [pdf]. There are probably some errors and omissions in this version. If you find any, please let me know.

From the report itself:

This report summarizes the results of the National Endowment for the Arts study of the general working conditions, financial status, performance opportunities, funding, and work practices of choreographers in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The study provides benchmark statistics on a sample of the national choreographer population and documents the difficult circumstances in which these artists work. Completed mail questionnaires from more than 500 choreographers and telephone interviews with over 200 more provided the primary data. Study findings important to the dance field, to the philanthropic community and to policymakers are arranged under the following headings: demographics, professional experience, productivity and use of time, performance opportunities, professional issues, financial conditions, funding, choreographers’ companies.

Important in this report is the distinction between dancer and choreographer – the work habits, support requirements, and income opportunities are dramatically different than those of dance performers. In most studies (and most government statistics), “dancer” and “choreographer” are combined, if “choreographer” is available as a separate profession at all. This report provides some insight into those difference, and why they are important from a policy and economic perspective.

I can’t commit to it now, but a follow-on study of choreographers in the Baltimore Metro region might be the next step after the Baltimore Regional Dance Study. That is a very intense level of participation (the NEA study was almost 80 questions), so dramatically improving participation rates is critical to making this level of research possible (and meaningful).

Kickstarting Dance in Baltimore

One of the nice things about the Kickstarter platform is that it’s been around long enough to accumulate some meaningful data on funding and the arts. It’s also got a handy tool to look at past funding efforts. Baltimore Dance only has 22 projects, so it’s not a huge set of data to work with, but it’s something. Keep that in mind – small data set = big errors. A lot of “theater” projects could be dance performance projects, and they are not included, and, in contrast, several of these “Dance” projects are related to dance, but not dance performance (there’s a costume fundraiser and a film project in there). So again, lots of error. Having said all that, is there anything meaningful to learn? Probably…

We’ve touched on Kickstarter before, but today’s exercise is about how Kickstarter has worked for dance in Baltimore, so I won’t be addressing any specific projects or people. I’m also going to exclude the film and travel efforts and try to focus on dance performance efforts. They overlap, so it’s a judgement call, and we’re left with 16 of 22 original projects. 11 successfully funded projects and 5 unsuccessfully funded projects remain. That screen drops just one successfully funded project, so that speaks well of Baltimore performance efforts. Data goes back to 2010, so that leaves us with:

Year Total Success Success Percentage
2010 1 0 0%
2011 2 1 50%
2012 5 4 80%
2013 3 3 100%
2014 1 0 0%
2015 2 2 100%
2016 2 1 50%
Total 16 11 69%

2012/2013 was peak funding year for dance in Baltimore, with 8 projects launched and 7 successfully funded. Since then, Baltimore dance activity on Kickstarter has dropped dramatically, but it’s impossible to know why. Has Baltimore (or dance) moved to other crowd-sourcing platforms? Fewer productions that require funding? Has other funding appeared? Is the Kickstarter overhead too much to bear with local dance economics?

Within this set of successfully funded projects, the average contribution was just a bit over $80 ($80.04, range $35.73 – $160.81) from just under 60 backers (58.4, range 7-237). Also interesting, within successful projects, the total raised averaged 120% of the funding requested, with 3 of 11 reaching 130+%. When Kickstarter works for Baltimore dance, it works well.

When Kickstarter doesn’t work for dance, it’s pretty dramatic. None of the 5 unsuccessfully-funded efforts on Kickstarter had more than 9 backers and none of them even reached 20% of their funding goal. Again, it’s impossible to know precisely what is behind this result. There’s a general conclusion even without more information – if you’re on a crowd-sourced funding platform, you really need access to a crowd.

Ethan Mollick’s Crowd-Funding Economic Impact Study

A few weeks ago, Ethan Mollick of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania published Containing Multitudes: The Many Impacts of Kickstarter Funding. In the crowd-funding era of arts economics, Kickstarter isn’t the only game in town, and each site (or system) has its own quirks. But, let’s start with the paper’s abstract:

Using a survey of 61,654 successful Kickstarter projects, I examined the various long-term impacts of crowdfunding. I found that every dollar given to projects via Kickstarter resulted in a mean of $2.46 in additional revenue outside of Kickstarter (95% Confidence Interval (CI): $1.82 to $3.09), though these amounts were much higher in categories such as food and product design and lower in film. From inception to May, 2015, Kickstarter projects resulted in around 5,135 ongoing fulltime jobs besides those that went to creators (95% CI: 1,188 to 9,082), and led to the hiring of around 160,425 temporary workers (95% CI: 145,330 to 175,518). Over 50% of projects were reported as being innovative by both backers and creators, and projects produced over 2,601 patent applications. Creators also reported significant positive impacts on their careers, and suggested that many projects helped a community or society in some way.

A couple things to note – this is only Kickstarter data and the survey instrument is not available. Kickstarter projects cover a lot of things besides art, and a lot of art stuff that isn’t dance. For this paper, dance and theater are combined.

Still, an important bit of data emerges. Included in the paper is a graph of “dollars generated to dollars pledged” which suggests that, on average, for each dollar pledged in a successful, completed Kickstarter-backed dance/theater project, about $5 of additional revenue is generated. That’s close to double the Kickstarter-wide average of $2.46 generated per dollar pledged and the most efficient non-product category discussed in the paper. It’s easy to imagine this has a lot to do with non-pledge-benefit ticket sales in the dance/theater world, but that’s just speculation on my part.

It’s not something you can take to the bank (every crowd-funding exercise is different and this particular metric is highly variable), but if you are planning to do some crowd-funding for a dance project, keep that 5-to-1 multiplier in mind. That’s real leverage.